4

In former special council Mueller's testimony before Congress, Mueller used the response "I take your question" a few times when he could not answer. This response isn't heard often and as such news articles had experts explain it.

For example, Quartz had a legal expert in stating:

M. Tia Johnson, a visiting law professor at Georgetown Law School and former assistant secretary for legal affairs at the US Department of Homeland Security, tells Quartz that this is a standard legal response.

“‘I take your question’ is used often when the witness doesn’t know the answer to the question,” she said. It’s distinct from a straight “no” because it indicates that the answer may well be knowable, just that this witness doesn’t know it.

I have searched on Google for this exact phrasing before Mueller's testimony, but the results are slightly different phrasings, for example:

I take your question seriously

I take your question to be (...)

I've also looked at Google Ngram which didn't yield many relevant results either. Many references come from NYMag which has some coverage of the recent Mueller hearing on older pages as well.


My question is about the etymology of "I take your question" as a response explained in the quote from Quartz. What is its origin?

Since there is so little I can find about it on the internet (pre-dating the hearing), I am wondering if anyone can shed some more light on it.

11
  • 3
    "I take your question" is similar to "I take your meaning" or "I take your point": a concession that doesn't really concede anything. It's like saying "I acknowledge that you have asked a question."
    – Robusto
    Jul 25, 2019 at 15:06
  • @Robusto if you can substantiate that with a source, please make it into an answer. :)
    – JJJ
    Jul 25, 2019 at 17:11
  • 1
    I would guess that it's short for "I'll take your question under advisement", which is a complicated way to say "I'm not going to answer that."
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 26, 2019 at 0:23
  • 1
    Did somebody say something?
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 26, 2019 at 1:54
  • 1
    I don't understand the tag here for etymology. What's there to research and study?The etymons for each of those four words are well known. The first three are from Germanic roots, the last Romance. Only a word can have an etymon. Phrases cannot. :)
    – tchrist
    Jul 26, 2019 at 4:19

4 Answers 4

4

I do not buy the explanation given in the link from the OP states:

"M. Tia Johnson, a visiting law professor at Georgetown Law School and former assistant secretary for legal affairs at the US Department of Homeland Security, tells Quartz that this is a standard legal response. [bolding mine]

“‘I take your question’ is used often when the witness doesn’t know the answer to the question,” she said. It’s distinct from a straight “no” because it indicates that the answer may well be knowable, just that this witness doesn’t know it."

  • I have never heard this phrase used in the way Mueller used it, on its own.
  • "I take your question." here could mean: I hear your question.
  • As far as I'm concerned, it is Mueller's ideolect and non-standard, semantically, in this context.
  • It does not mean the witness doesn't know the answer. On its own, followed by silence, it suggests "I will not answer this question."
  • Special counsels are not usually questioned by Congressional committees.
  • The phrase "standard legal response" merely sounds silly here.
  • A legal response to something would probably mean something in writing, and not speech.

It's a huge stretch to claim that witnesses have "standard legal responses" to questions. Witnesses come in all shapes and sizes and though they may be coached in terms of answering at trials, persons appearing before Congressional committees are also subject to the vagaries of language. Each has her/his own way of speaking, and there is no "standard legal response" by a witness, before Congress or on the witness stand in a trial. Witnesses aren't expected to provide "standard legal responses".

Also, Mueller was a Special Counsel (aka, prosecutor). Generally speaking, prosecutors do not act as witnesses at Congressional hearings. This was an anomaly. In fact, lawyers do not usually take the stand in cases they are involved in.

It is not correct to say Mueller "couldn't answer this or that question", as if he did not have the knowledge to answer it. All the questions he didn't answer were because he chose not to answer them or because he said "I don't know".

special counsel

6
  • 2
    I think by standard legal response they meant that it has an established meaning in some legal arena (e.g. a courtroom, perhaps some other venues). I'd say sustained has a specific meaning in the courtroom (going by popular culture). That said, I haven't heard this use either but I'm not a legal scholar (or even an American) so I can't really judge whether you are right but my gut says you may very well be.
    – JJJ
    Jul 25, 2019 at 15:33
  • 1
    @JJJ "I think by standard legal response they meant that it has an established meaning in some legal arena." That is incorrect, inaccurate and silly. Witnesses speak, they do not "give standard legal responses". Lawyers may (in writing or, orally, to judges or to opposing counsel) . The professor said it is when a witness does not know an answer. That is BS invented by her. One needn't be a legal scholar to recognize foolishness**. This is most definitely not like the terms "sustained" or "overruled", spoken by judges (exclusively).
    – Lambie
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:00
  • That's an interesting point, of course most witnesses, especially in criminal cases, won't be legal professionals. There are, however, a lot of hearings (similar to this one) involving career officials testifying (as witnesses) who probably have had formal legal training. For example, hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
    – JJJ
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:35
  • @JJJ You are making me repeat myself. There is no such thing as a "standard legal response". It's not a "thing". That professor doesn't know what she was saying and I am sure she now regrets saying it. It sounds absolutely ridiculous. Fyi, I am a legal translator and interpreter. I deal with legal language all day long.
    – Lambie
    Jul 25, 2019 at 17:13
  • @JJJ you should have taken the fifth
    – user339660
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:31
3

I agree that the law professor’s response is merely her interpretation of the phrase-twenty five years in litigation and I’ve never heard anyone say that. I feel like the response was more dismissive of the question, kind of like “I take you question [but I ain’t answering it]” or akin to “I take your abuse or BS!” Oh, how about this: he’s taking the question like a batter “takes” a pitch, meaning he just watches it and doesn’t swing. BINGO!

2
  • Yes, I agree with this opinion, counsel. [caveat: said jokingly]
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2019 at 14:47
  • A more candid response by Mueller would have been "I take your rant [for what it is]."
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 28, 2019 at 19:22
0

I think that it is a non-response. unlike @Lambie who says there is no such thing as a "standard legal response" I offer "not guilty" and "guilty" as the two most common responses the public know. I take your Question is a lot like nolo contendere, which is also a standard legal response. It is a non answer.

1
  • There is no such thing as the speech of a witness being said to constitute a "standard legal response". Now, pleadings in a court of law such nolo contendere is called a pleading. Just like the pleas (guilty versus not guilty) See for yourself: law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_12
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2019 at 14:45
0

I don't really think there was a question to answer. It seemed more of an acknowledgement to the scolding he was being given. The response was more to acknowledge the point but not agree with it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.