Three False Whys

Listen for the False Why when someone says, "Why don't you . . . ?" Usually one can practically touch the opinion and advice oozing from that question. An answer with reasons is likely to bring simply more advice from a deep well of ready opinion.

Here's another False Why: "Why can't you . . .?" This sentence stem often begins a demand or command and carries a matching tone of voice. It is false in not really asking for reasons. No answer involving reasons is expected or accepted.

"Why on earth would you ever want to do such a thing as . . .?" In this False Why, the use of the word "Why" borders on punishment or shame. Here again no answer with reasons will likely be heard. Listening has stopped.

The word "Why" is so commonly misused in American English that it now almost automatically raises defenses in the listener. So I urge Americans to find ways to replace the word in speech and to recognize miscommunication when heard.

A True Why seeks reasons and gathers information: "Why did you . . .?"  However, even with proper purpose and motive, and even with modulated tone of voice, the word can sound accusing or impudent. "Why" can put the brakes on listening.

A Better Why: "I wonder what were the reasons behind your decision to . . . ." This aims at stating true sentiments without the baggage of the word "Why." Inflected rightly, as a statement, this leaves the other free to answer or not, now or later.

Copyright 2014 Wilma Zalabak