Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Spreading "No Question"

Compliments and apologies to James Thurber for the title.

I think I first noticed it about a year ago, during the NFL playoffs. Troy Aikman began nearly every other sentence of his commentary with two simple words: "no question." I didn't like it, in much the same way that I dislike any phrase that gets repeated a little too often. Then again, Troy Aikman is hardly our National Barometer of Eloquence. Maybe it was a concussion thing.

As football season eventually (thank heavens) turned into baseball season, I noticed that the same spores of unvarying diction clinging to Aikman's palate had spread to Tim McCarver as well. There was "no question" about a great many things: the desirability of dropping a sacrifice bunt, the necessity of slow runners trying to go from first to third on sterling outfield arms, the indisputable holiness of Blanche DuBois. I gritted my teeth a bit, and then I settled down into a shrug. Maybe it was just a Fox broadcasters thing.

Now, though, my ears were acutely tuned to these increasingly obnoxious two words. I was hearing them everywhere, from anyone who had an opinion about anything. Phrases like these come and go, but the spreading "no question" I find particularly objectionable for the following reasons.

1) Anything you say following "no question" is, by your own admission, stating the obvious. If there's no question, why do you need to make the point?

2) The phrase is often heard at the beginning of a response to a question. If someone asks you about something and you begin your answer with "no question," you are implying that your interlocutor is ignorant of well-known realities.

3) The phrase, as used in discussions of certain controversial policies, is a way of pre-empting a conversation about important issues of public life that are genuinely in dispute.

This third incongruity in the use of the phrase is, I would suggest, especially irritating. The people claiming there is "no question" about such matters are sufficiently well-spoken to know what they're doing, and sufficiently intelligent to know better than to do it.

Perhaps my sensitivity to this phrase is an occupational hazard. I don't think so, though, inasmuch as I have lacked a real occupation for quite some time. I have many wishes for 2005, some of them extravagant and likely unattainable, some of them so curious and petty that I won't task you with them here. Between these two extremes falls this wish: I hope to hear a vast reduction in the use of "no question" sprinkled throughout broadcast discourse. In return, I will gratefully become less of a hectoring word-badger, and expend my peevish wrath elsewhere.

There are a variety of words available for asserting the absolute correctness of one's position. A great many of them end in "ly." Let's use them.


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