In many questions, there are multiple sub-questions. Take, for example, the question: Why are you so tired? You may respond first by answering the unasked but implicit question by declaring: “But I am not tired”. That is not what the question asked. Such an answer is a response to the implied question within the question, of: “Are you tired?” To the question actually asked, the proper response might be: I stayed up late last night reading. The presumptive sub-question unstated and silent but implicit in the major question posited in duality of a contingent combination, is precisely what is often termed as “lawyerly”, and thus somehow deceitful, tricky and attempting to subvert by having the responder accept a non-explicit presumption of facts.
The classic example, of course, is the cross-examination query stated variously as: “When did you stop beating your wife?” Before an objection is launched, the unwary witness might respond, “I didn’t” – meaning (from the witness’ perspective) that he never beat his wife in the first place, when in fact such a response evokes a different meaning – that the individual never stopped beating his wife, and continues to do so up until the present. There is, in such a duality of question/sub-question combination, the presumptive prefatory inquiry, stated as: “Have you ever beaten your wife?”
It is, in many ways, the capacity and ability to dissect and recognize the need to bifurcate or even trifurcate linguistic bundles that require thought, reflection and insightful methodologies in order to help define existence as successful or otherwise challenging. Life is a tough road to forge; language opens the world by allowing for avenues and pathways of communication, but it also compels constructing obstacles that deflect and defeat the reality of Being surrounding us.
In the linear historicity of language and the explosion of thought, conceptual paradigms and communication inventories, the commingling of questions, the looseness of language and the careless ways in which thoughts are provoked, may lend itself to confusion, puzzlement and an inability to solve problems. That is, of course, the strength of argument impounded by the British Empiricists, and while their collective denial of any substantive issues inherent in philosophical problems is itself suspect, their contribution in attempting to identify peripheral, “non-substantive” issues arising from the imprecise usage of language, in contradistinction to central and essential conundrums, helps us all.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are preparing to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, a word to the wise: SF 3112A contains multiple implicit questions, and bifurcation – nay, trifurcation – is an important element to consider and resolve. Be cognizant of the implicit question – lest you answer the major question without considering the prefatory query. Standard Forms are replete with compound questions, and the unwary will inevitably fall into the trap of answering the question posed on the surface, and in so doing, admit to facts presumptively “hidden” in sub-questions unasked.
Preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application requires the effort of untangling such compounding and confounding queries; it is up to the unwary Federal or Postal employee to bifurcate and trifurcate such attempts, and to dissect, with precision of purpose, the questions unasked, and answer those which are both prefatory and sequential.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire