I recently shared with several coworkers that I wanted to go to a particular class. My coworker responded to me with the following question: "Why would you want to do that?" I responded with a sarcastic comment. Her question seemed negative to me. Can someone explain the "usage" to me.

One of the district's maintenance supervisors, John, came to the school where I work one day looking for the asst principal. We had a conversation, during which I said to John, "After I get my F.O.I.D. card, [your wife] and I should go for shooting lessons."

The other secretary in the room then said, "Why would you want to do that?"

I replied with the following flippant comment: "To shoot you."

I am now getting fired.

I was joking, but I need to explain in technical terms that I thought she was being negative.

closed as not constructive by MetaEd, J.R., tchrist, Kristina Lopez, Mitch May 7 '13 at 17:34

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  • 2
    Which usage are you concerned about here? – Bradd Szonye May 7 '13 at 2:46
  • I think its 'Why would you want to do that?' – Roy Lee May 7 '13 at 4:43
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    Okay, this is a genuine question. Does "Why would you want to do that?" imply "You would better not be doing such things unless there's a great reason"? Or, does it just mean an innocent "May I know why?" -- An issue of pragmatics. – Kris May 7 '13 at 4:52
  • Now I'm curious...so -you- get your FOID card, what does that have to do with John's wife? Was she part of the conversation before? Were you setting him up for your punchline? – Mitch May 7 '13 at 22:08

From the context, I believe you mean your coworker asked her question with verbal intonations that indicated she was being dismissive and disbelieving. If she can't believe you want to take the class, and if she dismisses your intention as pointless, she is saying the reasons you have for taking the class are bad, inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. The question, when colored by this dismissive, derogatory attitude, goes beyond the literal request for information; it implies that the information which is apparently requested (the reasons why you want to take the class) could not possibly be an adequate justification for doing so. To put it another way, she doesn't want your answer because she feels there IS no good answer. And if there is no good answer, there is no reason to take the class. She's saying you're wasting your time. She feels you should not be taking the class.

Thus, in this case, I take her question to be rhetorical, meaning no answer is expected because the question is not posed as a question. The only thing being questioned is the validity or value of the class you want to take. A rhetorical question is not really a question per se; it is a statement.

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