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I don't know if it's my incompetence in the English language, or if it's other people trying to mess with my head, but... When you ask someone a question such as "What do you like, X or Y?", and they respond "Yes", what are they saying "yes" to? The former option or the latter?!

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    In probably at least 90% of cases of a response of this type the intent is to be humorous, or at least ironic. There are several different interpretations, depending on the context, but Herr Pink covers most of them. (Certainly it would be difficult for a non-native English speaker, or even an English speaker from the "other side of the pond", to divine the specific intent in many cases, though.)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 28, 2015 at 3:10
  • "I don't care -- to what you are saying, not what you are asking."
    – Kris
    Mar 28, 2015 at 5:06
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    As @HotLicks noted in the passing: It's a politician's response, to be political correct, go on record as having answered your question, not on record having opted for either, yet keep all options open. It's not acceptable in standard English.
    – Kris
    Mar 28, 2015 at 5:10
  • @Kris - "Standard English" spans an enormous range. It's clearly inappropriate, say, in a formal debate, or in a business letter (or on a school test), but there's nothing inherently wrong with it's use in casual conversation.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 28, 2015 at 12:04
  • @Kris - Yep, that was a finger check.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 29, 2015 at 13:39

2 Answers 2

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It's usually considered to be a flippant response that agrees to both/all possible answers. Such as: Would you like the steak or the ribs? "Yes", implying that you would like both. Am I crazy or is this movie terrible but somehow the best thing I've ever seen? "Yes", implying that the asker is crazy and that the film is good despite being schlocky.

edit: I'd like to revise this following the responses of other users. When I say 'usually' I do not mean 'always'; it's perfectly acceptable for an answer of "yes" or indeed "no" to a binary question to not be positive, and might in fact be entirely dismissive (I'm sure I could dig out choice quotes from politicians that display exactly this!).

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  • Not from politicians -- we better stick to logical and straight-cut English language :)
    – Kris
    Mar 28, 2015 at 5:07
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    So your edit is: "is it your answer or the other answers? Yes." :D Mar 28, 2015 at 5:54
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I don't agree with @HerrPink that it necessarily means that both/all answers are correct.

What it means is that at least one of the answers is correct.

If the question is whether A or B is true, it is always possible to interpret that as a logical statement about the truth of the proposition A or B. And that proposition is true whenever either A or B is true. For example, John is an alligator or John is not an alligator is true, in any case. And Jane is an orange or Jane is an orangutan is true if she is either.

So yes, such a response is often flippant. When that is the case, it is often a way of saying that both are true, or what was posed is a false dichotomy, or one of the two is true and you don't want to say which.

Such a response can convey a feeling that the question is stupid, or that the respondent doesn't want to choose (e.g. go out on a limb or disclose a preference). It can convey various meanings, but it typically indicates an unwillingness, for whatever reason, to choose.

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  • Good points; I stand corrected in assuming the answer is a positive one. The nature of it being flippant could also imply that it is dismissive. +1
    – Herr Pink
    Mar 28, 2015 at 1:30
  • Ask a programmer if they want coffee or tea and they reply "yes" (coffee|tea)==true
    – mgb
    Mar 28, 2015 at 2:06

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