APLawrence.com -  Resources for Unix and Linux Systems, Bloggers and the self-employed

Quick question - any ideas?

© November 2005 Anthony Lawrence

I hate the phrase "Quick question". I also dislike "any ideas?" at the end of a long description of a problem, but I think "Quick question" deserves even more nastiness.

First, it almost never is a "quick question" at all. A quick question is something like "You want fries with that?" or "You want me to plug this in?" The implication of "quick question" is that the answer should be as quick or quicker than the asking - in other words, "yes", "no" or something equally pithy.

The person who prefaces their tech plea with "quick question" is hardly ever asking that sort of question. OK, maybe sometimes, and I'll forgive the phrase when it fits, but mostly it's "Quick question - my network is down - any ideas?".

All right, yes, I earn a good part of my living from my ability to construct theories from scattered clues. When I hear "Quick question - the network is down", dozens of images flash before my eyes, dozens of other networks that went suddenly "down". That set is intersected with what I suspect the caller probably would have realized without calling me, and further intersected with what I may already know about their equipment, topology and software, and hopefully that leaves me with a small set of possibilities. But there's nothing necessarily quick about it, and I probably need to ask more questions myself.

I suppose I could be a wise guy: "Quick question - my network is down" tempts a response of "Quick question - is the switch plugged in?" but no, I can't do that. These are paying clients, right?

But regardless of the financial reward attached to "Quick question", I still curl the corners of my mouth inward ever so slightly when I hear it. If the explanatory phrase is then followed by "any ideas?", I have to restrain myself from barking back something unfriendly.

I plead guilty to being word sensitive. I think my objection does boil down to the pointlessness - it would be more than passingly strange to describe a problem and NOT be looking for ideas or suggestions (there are certain exceptions, of course, but in general..)

So closing with "Any ideas?" is redundant and unnecessary. You described a problem - it's obvious you want ideas on fixing it!

Really, I'm only mildly annoyed. Inclusion of such verbiage doesn't cause me to bang my desk, kick the virtual dog, snarl at the non-existent secretary, or even treat the person responsible harshly. I just think it's strange how certain things annoy some of us and not others- for example, the cardinal sin of top posting is a complete non-issue with me- in fact, in some circumstances I think people SHOULD top post (though, like the deliberate use of incorrect grammar, the occasion for such is limited and the practice should not be attempted by the inexperienced).

Words are important- as any devotee of the Unix command line certainly understands. I'd like to direct your attention to something I wrote some time ago: "Unix - Love it or hate it?" and to note that just as those adept at writing cringe inwardly when presented with sorrowfully constructed prose, folks adept at the similar skill of using command lines don't like to see wasted effort- "unnecessary use of cat" awards and the like. So, while certainly not claiming any extreme mastery on either front, I think that my objection to including the obvious "Any ideas?" stems from at least WANTING to write well, to script well, to generally just communicate efficiently, whether with computers or humans.

The article noted above also makes mention of the different writing or communication abilities found in newsgroups. I made the claim then that Windows newgroups seemed to me to be populated by less literate people than those found in the old Unix groups. Recently, however, my reading of Linux groups has caused me to see that bad writing and truly feeble communication skills are unfortunately highly represented there also- something we never saw much of in the old Unix newsgroups. Unfortunately, as much as I really need to immerse myself in the Linux culture for seemingly obvious financial reasons, it's jaw-clenchingly difficult to filter the rantings of yahoos that are so common there- making "Any ideas" welcome and comforting by comparison! Of course, I'm not speaking of the folks ANSWERING questions there; just the great unwashed doing the asking.

Whenever I have feelings like this, I become afraid that I really am turning into a Cranky Old Fart, so I ask my 20 something year old son-in-law for his geekish impression (carefully not revealing my opinions first to avoid any danger of sucking up to the father-in-law). His opinions of the general stupidity of the Linux newsgroups are even less friendly than mine, so I must still have some of my marbles.

So, yes, I'm a grumpy old fart, but so what? I've paid my dues, and have a right to mutter under my breath, talk to myself, and speak disparagingly about anything at all.

What's this all leading up to? Why, it's a nice link I found today about writing good email. The author isn't quite so grumpy as I, but close, and deservedly so. Too many people write awful email.

The worst email I can imagine is one that begins with "Quick question", rambles on incoherently for several pages, and ends with "Any ideas?". No doubt it will be sent with a blank subject just to further obfuscate its meaning. Unfortunately, I get those fairly frequently.

If you are guilty of the email transgressions covered at that link, please do take the lessons to heart and improve your skills. All your correspondents will appreciate it. I know I will.

Any suggestions ? :-)

Got something to add? Send me email.

(OLDER)    <- More Stuff -> (NEWER)    (NEWEST)   

Printer Friendly Version

-> Quick question - any ideas?


Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Take Control of Pages

Take Control of High Sierra

iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of IOS 11

Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course

More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Wed Nov 2 15:10:53 2005: 1269   BigDumbDinosaur

The worst email I can imagine is one that begins with "Quick question"...

I like the messages that have Help! in the subject line, and then proceed to outline a "problem" that Simple Simon could solve -- if only he were sufficiently motivated to engage brain and make a little effort. These messages fall into the same category as the "Quick Question" models.

Wed Nov 2 18:49:55 2005: 1270   Dean

Quick Question; What's the meaning of life?

What you're missing there is that is in fact a quick question... They're not saying "Hey, quick answer to this question..." So, technically, they're right... It is a quick question. "Any ideas?" That's pretty damn quick. ;) Now it's your job to give them a long and overly technical answer and make them think about it for a few days. Either that or say "Quick Answer: No."

Wed Nov 2 19:28:37 2005: 1271   TonyLawrence

OK, but I think the implied thought is "This won't take up much of your time, so I don't expect to pay much or maybe anything at all".

I don't *really* get mad at people who say that, but I do always mentally hold my breath and wonder what's about to be said..

Mon Nov 7 10:55:09 2005: 1296   Dean

I'm just giving you a hard time Tony ;)

Mon Nov 7 11:27:35 2005: 1297   TonyLawrence

I know :-)

Mon Nov 7 15:03:56 2005: 1302   BigDumbDinosaur

Hey, Tony! I have a quick question for you. What is the meaning of life? <Grin>

Mon Nov 7 15:45:30 2005: 1303   TonyLawrence

Dean beat you to that :-)

But I do have a quick answer: there is no meaning. That doesn't prevent us from enjoying it, though.

Mon Nov 7 20:46:29 2005: 1304   anonymous

The 7 and 1/2 million year answer to that question is always 42.

Mon Nov 7 21:00:04 2005: 1305   TonyLawrence

Assuming you have expressed gratitude for the fish, yes.

Thu Aug 1 17:59:25 2013: 12247   TonyLawrence


You know, I never did immerse myself in Linux and I honestly think the yahoo factor had a lot to do with that!


Printer Friendly Version

Have you tried Searching this site?

This is a Unix/Linux resource website. It contains technical articles about Unix, Linux and general computing related subjects, opinion, news, help files, how-to's, tutorials and more.

Contact us

Printer Friendly Version

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Arthur C Clarke)

Linux posts

Troubleshooting posts

This post tagged:


Unix/Linux Consultants

Skills Tests

Unix/Linux Book Reviews

My Unix/Linux Troubleshooting Book

This site runs on Linode