Television seems to be teaching us not to say yes.
I noticed this trend a few months ago, and it continues to grow.
When people are interviewed on TV, they are afraid of short answers. A short answer can make you seem rude or uncooperative. But sometimes the answer to a simple question is just as simple.
So what to do if the answer is “yes”?
The current approach is to repeat the question as a declarative sentence, as in:
Was the car crash caused by driver inattention? asks the reporter.
The car crash was caused by driver inattention, answers the police officer at the scene.
I’ve seen this pattern on all kinds of programs which feature a question-and-answer format, including D-I-Y shows:
Is this product available at home improvement centers? asks Kevin on This Old House.
This product is available at home improvement centers, the rep answers mechanically.
Television is beginning to sound like an old Bob and Ray routine. And it’s beginning to creep into everyday speech. I’m noticing more and more people do it.
This mindless way of answering questions has become so commonplace that I practically cheer at my television when I hear the word “yes” used to respond to a question.
A couple of weeks ago, Senator Lindsey Graham was asked a question on one of those Sunday press shows. I don’t remember the question, but it began, “Are you worried that …? After stating the question, I’m sure the interviewer consulted his notes for the next question he would ask after Graham had returned a standard, I am worried that.… (or a variation like concerned, if he didn’t want to admit to being worried).
Yes, he replied.
The interviewer was so taken aback that he sputtered for several seconds trying to gather his thoughts.
Senator Graham laughed at the havoc he had wreaked. Being a gentleman at heart (note to Democrats — it is possible for a Republican, after all), he helpfully stepped in and rescued the stunned interviewer with another declarative statement. But he did not mindlessly repeat the question.
I don’t know a lot about Senator Graham’s politics, but I’m considering moving to South Carolina to vote for him in the next election, on linguistic grounds.