by Martin Mills
The most powerful word in any language.
|The situation is usually the same. I sit in the center of a u-shaped table, using my lap to keep the textbook level. Several Korean students look up from their identical books as they wait for my interpretation. Instead of giving them an answer, I ask them why.
Whenever they guess a correct answer, I congratulate them then reward them with my favorite question. They almost shudder. They might not fear it, but I know they hate it.
When I started teaching English as a Second Language in Korea I made it a point to learn the equivalent of all the major question words. In doing so I discovered that out of the five "w"'s none could level a class like the small simple "why". There must be power in those three letters.
I wondered why that is the case, so I looked at the other "w"'s. How is it that they are all subject to the cruel dictatorship of "why"?
Who, what, when and where all have definite answers. Ask a news reporter or historian. Just give them some advanced notice first. With enough research they'll have all four answers on your desk within a suitable deadline.
Even ask them how. If they can't answer, someone else will.
Scientists and churches alike have their answers for how. But ask an evolutionist or a creationist why. You've got them all stumped.
When I teach English, there are times I can explain why. But even as I study Korean, I discovered the problem is the same. In language, as in life , one question seldom gets answered to our satisfaction. Everyone tries to answer it as everyone wants to have all the answers. But "why" won't let us.
Most people are like my students and decide to hate that question. It happens to be one of my favorites. Any two year old can ask it, but I haven't met anyone who can answer it. It remains undefeated. In the world of words, "why" is the king.