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During a talk, I heard the expression "this is a tall question".

May someone explain what does it mean?

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    I'd compare it to a tall order, something challenging, or a big ask, something big to request. Mar 23 at 14:11
  • @YosefBaskin But the phrase wasn't indicating a request. The term "question" was meaning something needing an explanation, a clarification or, more generally, a verbal answer.
    – user402843
    Mar 23 at 14:22
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    A tall question is not a usual expression, but presumably the speaker meant that it was a difficult question to answer, in the same way that the idiom a tall order means a request that is difficult to carry out. Mar 23 at 14:27
  • A question requests information. (A rhetorical question is an exception: "Oh, yeah? What's it to ya?") A tall question must be one that asks something difficult. Mar 23 at 14:28

2 Answers 2

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See the third definition of tall (adjective) on Merriam-Webster:

large or formidable in amount, extent, or degree

A tall question, then, is one that is difficult to address, often because the answer requires context or is multi-faceted in the mind of the answerer. See the following excerpt from Only Henrietta by Lela Horn Richards (emphasis mine):

"Do you go to Harvard?"
"I surely do."
"How splendid! What are you going to be?"
A roguish smile met Henrietta's eyes.
"Well, now, that's a tall question. There are three things I'd like to train for, but my old man — the governor, you know, isn't crazy about any of them."

A tall question may also have a simple, straightforward answer, though the answer imposes mental weight on the answerer due to conflict or ambivalence.

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    For any non-native English speakers, as a native English speaker, I want to note that I don't recall ever hearing this phrase, it sounds strange, and I would not use it. Nonetheless, because of the similarity to the common phrase, "tall order", its meaning will generally be clear. MW's third definition is questionably applicable. In fact, I can't think of anything other than "order" that is called tall in that way. We don't call the earth "tall", though it is large in extent. We don't say nuclear physics is a tall science, or War and Peace a tall novel. My 2 cents.
    – Kevin
    Mar 24 at 20:57
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One of the uses of tall is

Cambridge

tall: adjective
used to describe an organization with many levels of jobs between top management and the workers at the bottom.

Similarly, a tall order is one with many items in the list. Consequently, when held up it makes a tall piece of paper.

By extension of meaning, a tall question is one requiring many levels or parts to its answer.

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    None of the definitions/explanations I can find mentions 'many items', just that tall is used in the sense of large. Mar 23 at 15:06
  • @KateBunting I agree there is some general looseness of definitions. Nevertheless, I think the Cambridge definition implies many items (=levels of management). A tall order (for grocery items, for example) certainly involves a lengthy list of items. I doubt that "tall" may be applied generally as "large" to things other than 1-dimensional (imagined if not real) things or lists. For example, we do not speak of tall fields (2-dimensional) or tall bladders (3-dimensional), although we may speak of tall people (height being 1-dimensional).
    – Anton
    Mar 23 at 15:15
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    Lexico gives a different and more relevant meaning of 'tall' when used in phrases, as "unreasonable or difficult", with some example usage. Mar 23 at 16:36
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    Do you have any citations for your proposed meaning of the phrase "tall question"? Mar 24 at 2:16

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