The Grammarphobia Blog

The quick brown fox

Q: What, exactly, is a “quick question”? Is there such a thing as a “slow question”?

A: I suspect that your question is rhetorical and that you agree with this description of “quick question” in Urban Dictionary, an online reference whose definitions are written by users: “A question that usually requires a long answer.”

Seriously, someone who says “I have a quick question” is promising the answer will be quick! And someone who says “I have time for a quick question” is hoping the answer will be quick!

A “quick question” is, of course, an idiomatic expression – that is, one that makes its own rules.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) describes an idiom as an expression “that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements.”

No matter how you describe it, an idiom doesn’t have to make literal sense. And “quick question” doesn’t.

I couldn’t find any citations for it in the Oxford English Dictionary, but I did find a few for “quick-reference,” as in a reference book that may be long but provides quick answers.

Sorry for a long answer to a short question. Next time, I hope to be quicker.

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