I understand that being interviewed for broadcast is intimidating, especially for people who aren’t used to it. At times like that, discomfort can lead to what Christopher Hitchens referred to as throat clearing, the use of meaningless sounds to fill the silence until a good answer to the question that’s been posed.

One example of this is the reflexive response, good question. The interviewer will ask what makes the guest hold a particular position on geopolitics, financial instruments, or mediaeval poetry, and immediately, the enquiry will be characterized — and almost always in a manner that offers no offense.

This is mostly harmless, unworthy of comment if it weren’t for the effect that poorly considered language has on the culture. Plastic-wrapped verbal modules are bad in that they’re boring, but they also encourage laziness. This filler gets picked up by others, since it offers a chance not to do the hard work of thinking.

An alternative explanation is that the person responding feels smugly entitled to pass judgement on the nature of the question. Or it can be the expression of pleasure at being given an opportunity to fall back on talking points that were prepared in advance. That’s somewhat better than the mere cliché, since the sharing of information is one important function of interviews. But when “good question” takes up time that could better be used in analyzing the points that have been raised, that’s a disservice to the audience.

Now there is an occasion for saying “good question” that serves a useful purpose. When it’s an admission that the answer isn’t known, that’s exactly what we ought to acknowledge. How did life on Earth begin? That’s a good question. How can we maintain or improve our standard of living while protecting the environment? That’s a good question. Though when we are in the presence of worthwhile ponderings, it’s best to get on with seeking answers instead of lingering over the uncertainty.

For more of my writing, go here.


Gee, Camp, what were you thinking? Supports gay rights, #2a, #1a, science, and other seemingly incongruous things. Books available on Amazon.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store