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My Mom does something that irks me. Either when she calls me, or sends me an e-mail, she says or writes "Question." Then asks whatever question it is. I find this rude. In my opinion starting the question this way becomes a demand, versus a question. Typically when I ask a question I either just ask it, or say "May or Can I ask you a question?" It depends on who I'm talking to and what we're talking about. In Italian that is the proper way to ask a question, but I don't think it's proper etiquette to ask that way in English.

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Saying domanda (the Italian translation of question) before to ask a question is an informal way to catch the attention of the other person, and then ask the question. I would find it more rude if the question were directly asked. –  kiamlaluno Jun 26 '11 at 19:34
    
Sometimes I'll say/write "Query" (because I'm a snob like that) before actually asking. It's not in any sense a demand, just my way of organising my thoughts, and I might not even expect/need an answer. I'm just ordering my thoughts out loud. Saying "Query" is equivalent to saying "Let's see," "Let me get this straight," "On the one hand," etc. It's just a different sort of indicator....I'm probably just a freak, though. :) –  kitukwfyer Jun 26 '11 at 19:41
    
Question. Why take diet pills when you can enjoy AYDS? –  Jez Jun 26 '11 at 19:56
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Question. What is your question? –  waiwai933 Jun 26 '11 at 20:04
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Is there a question here? –  Henry Jun 26 '11 at 20:12
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4 Answers

Arguably it is slightly rude, but I think you're wrong to take umbrage at your Mom using it towards you.

I use the form myself sometimes in emails to busy people who I've discovered don't always have time to read everything I say and respond to all requests for feedback. I certainly don't think they would normally be offended - if anything, they're likely to be grateful that I've made it easier for them to spot the bits that need actual replies.

On the matter of using this form to convert a simple question into a peremptory demand, I think that writing/saying "Question." before the actual question is really just a way of calling your attention to that question.

Perhaps your Mom has noticed that you don't always answer her questions, so she's trying to give you a gentle reminder that you shouldn't do this.

I don't want to be rude myself, but I think perhaps you should reflect on why your Mom feels the need to do this, rather than trying to criticise her manners and seeking endorsement here.

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Thank you FumbleFingers, I will take what you say into consideration. –  ROCKWOOD Jun 26 '11 at 20:55
    
After thinking about your response, I simply had to comment further. Identifying the user as my mother was not to criticize her manners, nor was I seeking endorsement from this forum. Her use of the word question has always seemed like a command to me. I initiated a google search and was referred here, so I thought I'd give this a shot. I've aged 49 and 6 months, and am not a child. Although I thank you for your input, I probably won't return to this forum for judgement from users such as you. Therefore, verily, I say unto you, in a most healthy demeanor....bugger off!!! –  ROCKWOOD Jun 27 '11 at 0:47
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@ROCKWOOD: Ah well, if you're going to be offended I suppose there's not much I can do about it. But I genuinely meant that I didn't want to be rude. And surely we can suppose that your mother doesn't intend to be continually rude to you, her own son. Though I must admit your last sentence makes me wonder about that. –  FumbleFingers Jun 27 '11 at 0:58
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I don't think it is impolite or demanding, on the contrary, I think it connotes a sense of hesitancy on the part of the questioner. It would be improper in written or formal English but in spoken English the sentence "Question: would you mind if I tagged along with you to the movies?" carries the sense "I hope you don't mind me asking, but would you mind if I tagged along with you to the movies." That is the meaning it would convey to me anyway.

FWIW, I have only ever hear this particular idiom in the United States, never in the UK, but that is just my personal observation, and others might well have a quite different experience.

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Saying question before to ask a question is an informal way to catch the attention of the other person, and then ask the question. I would find it more rude if the question were directly asked.

Saying "May I ask you a question?" or "Can I ask you a question?" is perfectly fine to say.

The NOAD has a note about using may or can.

Is there any difference between can and may when used to request or express permission, as in "may I ask you a few questions?" or "can I ask you a few questions?" It is still widely held that using can for permission is somehow incorrect and that it should be reserved for expressions denoting capability, as in "can you swim?" Although the use of the 'permission' sense of can is not regarded as incorrect in standard English, there is a clear difference in formality between the two verbs: may is, generally speaking, a more polite way of asking for something and is the better choice in more formal contexts. The distinction is largely a matter of manners, and sometimes of authority.

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Agree about directly asking. If something isn't expecting to have to react to more than a few words, they'll have to switch focus quickly to avoid missing something. Making it clear that one intends to say something, and waiting for the other person to mentally switch gears, reduces stress on the other person and increases the likelihood of actually being heard. –  supercat Jan 17 at 22:59
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It's informal, certainly, but I don't think it impolite. It's simply a flag to the listener that the statement to follow is intended as a question to which the speaker expects a response. This would be true regardless of the structure of the statement or its inflection when spoken.

In informal speech, a lot must be inferred. The statement "You are going to the game", when spoken, could be a question or a statement of fact. Because there are no grammatical hints (there is no "question word" in the statement, nor are the verb and subject inverted), the listener must rely on subtle intonation and on context for hints as to the statement's purpose. However, in many dialects these intionation hints may also be absent, or indistinguishable; the end-of-sentence rise in pitch has become commonplace in many dialects (thank you, "valley girls"), while sometimes this same lilt is absent from actual questions. The statement "Question:" preceeding a question removes ambiguity about the speaker's intentions; the following statement is intended as a question, regardless of grammar structure, inflection or other hints.

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