#315 – Ask Precisely, and Ye Shall Receive

I try not to lie to my wife. At the same time, I don’t correct her when she fails to ask the proper question. Sophia thinks I draw too fine a line with that distinction, but the lawyer in me says otherwise. In all probability we’ll debate this subject forever, and last night’s argument will go down as merely the latest, but not last, salvo in our war of words.

I’ve been taught as an attorney to demand precision in language. For example, I instruct clients appearing for deposition to answer no question unless they’re sure they understand what’s being asked and believe the query has a single interpretation. I act similarly when admitting or denying allegations in a complaint or discovery requests. For instance, if an opposing party asks my client to admit that “you removed all of your personal property from the premises,” I’ll deny the assertion if my client left behind as little as a pack of gum.

On occasions where my wife poses potentially problematic inquiries, I answer truthfully, but only to the letter of the requests and no further. That’s what happened Sunday. While I was at Jimmy’s house watching the Flyers-Penguins playoff game, my cell phone rang. A perturbed Sophia informed me that she’d invited her sister-in-law over to view the “Lionel Richie and Friends” concert she’d recorded, only to discover the show missing from our DVR’s saved contents: “Richard, I programmed it to tape Friday night, and Gina and I specially set aside this afternoon to watch it together. But it’s nowhere to be found! You didn’t delete it, did you?”

I answered emphatically: “I did not delete your show, Sophia!” Upon hanging up, however, I issued an audible “phew!”

Cracking up, Jimmy challenged my veracity: “You lying dog, Richard!”

“Not so, Jimmy,” I corrected. “I truthfully answered her question as framed.” As I went on to explain, had Sophia inquired whether a) I’d taped a hockey game Friday night while watching another, b) a message had appeared on-screen telling me the TV channel would soon change to CBS, unless one of the two current recordings or another scheduled recording was canceled, and c) I’d made an executive decision to continue watching one game while recording the other, my answer admittedly would’ve differed.

Jimmy expressed doubt Sophia would split hairs the same as me. Naturally he was right, as last night’s “discussion” confirmed. During our live viewing of American Idol, a message appeared on screen advising of an impending change of channel, unless we canceled one of the two shows set to record. Sophia, holding the remote, asked me what to do so we could continue to watch the live show. Reflexively, I replied: “Just cancel one of the two recordings, and we can stay on this channel.”

She made her selection, but then paused as her internal light bulb flashed: “Wait a minute! …”

The show my wife was hoping to see.


#315 – Ask Precisely, and Ye Shall Receive — 2 Comments

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