Wed, 06 Nov 2019
Regarding the phrase “why didn't you just…”, Mike Hoye has something to say that I've heard expressed similarly by several other people:
(Specifically, that you think they must be a blockhead for not thinking of this solution immediately.)
I think this was first pointed out to me by Andy Lester.
I think the problem here may be different than it seems. When someone says “Why don't you just (whatever)” there are at least two things they might intend:
Certainly the tech world is full of response 1. But I wonder how many people were trying to communicate response 2 and had it received as response 1 anyway? And I wonder how many times I was trying to communicate response 2 and had it received as response 1?
Mike Hoye doesn't provide any alternative phrasings, which suggests to me that he assumes that all uses of “why didn't you just” are response 1, and are meant to imply contempt. I assure you, Gentle Reader, that that is not the case.
Pondering this over the years, I have realized I honestly don't know how to express my question to make clear that I mean #2, without including a ridiculously long and pleading disclaimer before what should be a short question. Someone insecure enough to read contempt into my question will have no trouble reading it into a great many different phrasings of the question, or perhaps into any question at all. (Or so I imagine; maybe this is my own insecurities speaking.)
Can we agree that the problem is not simply with the word “just”, and that merely leaving it out does not solve the basic problem? I am not asking a rhetorical question here; can we agree? To me,
seems to suffer from all the same objections as the “just”ful version and to be subject to all the same angry responses. Is it possible the whole issue is only over a difference in the connotations of “just” in different regional variations of English? I don't think it is and I'll continue with the article assuming that it isn't and that the solution isn't as simple as removing “just”.
Let me try to ask the question in a better better way:
I think the sort of person who is going to be insulted by the original version of my question will have no trouble being insulted by any of those versions, maybe interpreting them as:
The more self-effacing I make it, the more I try to put in that I think the trouble is only in my own understanding, the more mocking and sarcastic it seems to me and the more likely I think it is to be misinterpreted. Our inner voices can be cruel. Mockery and contempt we receive once can echo again and again in our minds. It is very sad.
So folks, please help me out here. This is a real problem in my life. Every week it happens that someone is telling me what they are working on. I think of what seems like a straightforward way to proceed. I assume there must be some aspect I do not appreciate, because the person I am talking to has thought about it a lot more than I have. Aha, I have an opportunity! Sometimes it's hard to identify what it is that I don't understand, but here the gap in my understanding is clear and glaring, ready to be filled.
I want to ask them about it and gain the benefit of their expertise,
just because I am interested and curious, and perhaps even because the
knowledge might come in useful. But then I run into trouble. I want
to ask “Why didn't you just use
I want to ask the question in a way that will make them smile, hold up
their index finger, and say “Aha! You might think that
What if I were to say
Would that be safer? How about:
but again I think that suggests sarcasm. A colleague suggests:
What to do? I'm in despair. Andy, any thoughts?