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Mark C. Miller

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Man Asks Stupid Question; Receives Brilliant Answer

Posted: 09/06/11 03:32 PM ET

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Woman who gave man brilliant answer.
Photo: Getty Images/Photodisc


EUFAULA, Ala. - When Gary Hinton was a little boy, he walked into his kitchen one day and asked his mother, "Mom, is that you?" His mother replied, "No, Gary, your mother couldn't be here, so she sent me instead. I'm a space alien who looks exactly like her." When Hinton gave her a look of disbelief, she responded with the common expression, "Well, if you ask a stupid question, you'll get a stupid answer." For the next 27 years, Hinton did his best to avoid asking any stupid questions.

But even the most careful of us slips up occasionally and recently, Hinton found himself, once again, on the asking end of a stupid question -- and he was stunned by the response he got. "I was on my lunch break and noticed this absolutely stunning woman in a black dress, waiting to cross the street. I really wanted to speak to her, but her beauty had me so flustered, by the time I opened my mouth, the only words that came out were 'Excuse me, is that a black dress?' She looked at me for a moment and then answered, 'That's a really interesting question and I want to give it the thought and response it deserves, but I have to get back to work. Why don't you give me your card and I'll email you my response later tonight?'

Of course, I thought she was just blowing me off for asking such a dumb question, but sure enough, later that night, she emailed me the most amazing response. Here it is:

'Gary, you asked today if what I was wearing was a black dress. That would depend both on the meaning of "dress" and the meaning of "black." As you no doubt know, a dress is such a common article of modern attire, generally a one-piece outer garment for women or girls, that it is difficult to imagine that the word dress has not always referred to this garment. And yet the earliest noun sense of dress, recorded in a work written before 1450, was "speech" or "talk." This dress comes from the verb dress, which goes back through Old French drecier, "to arrange," and the assumed Vulgar Latin drictire to Latin drictus, a form of the verb drigere, "to direct."

'Then, too,' the woman continued, 'in terms of my dress being black, while the dictionary defines "black" as "being of the color black, producing or reflecting comparatively little light and having no predominant hue," it also defines black as, variously, soiled, dirty, evil, gloomy, grimly satiric humor, incurring censure or dishonor, and served without milk or cream." So, you see, Gary, it truly pays to be as specific as possible when framing your questions and if you'd like to discuss any of this further over coffee or cocktails, I've included my phone number below - and I'd be happy to wear the black dress as a conversation starter.'

 

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