"What kind of soup?" is not exactly a soup question, is it?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2009/09/08 10:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2009/09/08/9891892.aspx

It started with an expression.

One I got from a movie.

The name of the movie was Finding Forrester.

This is a movie I liked a lot, though this is about one thing in particular. The relevant dialog from the movie, between William Forrester (Sean Connery) and Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown):

William: You better stir that soup.
Jamal: What?
William: Stir the soup before it firms up.
Jamal: Why doesn't ours get anything on it?
{{William looks out the window through the camcorder he is holding}}
William: Come on. Closer. Now.
Jamal: You got someone doing that kind of yelling?
William: What I have is an adult male. Quite pretty. Probably strayed from the park.
{{William shows Jamal the image on the camcorder}}
William: A Connecticut warbler.
Jamal: You ever go outside to do any of this?
William: You should have stayed with the soup question. The object of a question is to obtain information that matters only to us. You were wondering why your soup doesn't firm up? Probably because your mother was brought up in a house that never wasted milk in soup. That question was a good one, in contrast to, "Do I ever go outside?", which fails to meet the criteria of obtaining information that matters to you.
Jamal: All right. I guess I don't have any more soup questions.

Now this shows up a couple more times in the movie, times when one of them has a question and the other responds:

Not exactly a soup question, is it?

The whole concept is one I picked up from this movie, from time to time thinking about the interrogative statements of others and specifically classifying questions as to whether or not they were soup questions.

I suppose if you wanted to more succinctly define a soup question like if you wanted that top entry in the Urban Dictionary, you could think of it in terms of its antonym -- a question that is "not exactly a soup question" is one that is really not the business of the person asking.

I don't usually say it as often as I think it, mainly because most people don't get the reference.

But I find it to be a useful one, as there are entirely too many questions people ask that are not, in fact, soup questions.

I will give a technical example another day (tomorrow, unless something bumps it to later in the week) but for now will stay away from the technical, if that is okay.

And to be frank even if it isn't.... 

Anyway, on this last Saturday I happened to put in a twitter tweet/facebook status:

Michael is sticking to soup questions, and tequila, for the rest of the weekend.

to which my friend Melanie responded:

What kind of soup?

Now this is a fascinating question.

I live in Seattle and Melanie lives in San Francisco.

So if there were actual soup (which there was not; this was a metaphorical thing as the above exposition implies) then the kind of soup, while relevant to me, is not important or meaningful to her. There is no way that the type of soup would have any effect on her whatsoever and therefore would not be important to her.

Thus the question "what kind of soup?" is not, in this case, much of a soup question.

Despite being a question pretty much only about soup!

# John Cowan on 8 Sep 2009 7:49 PM:

Politicians, in general, don't employ dog whistles for dogs.

# Cheong on 16 Sep 2009 10:50 PM:

If I were in that conversation, I'd probably response with "No soup for the wicked." and half-expecting the dialog will be driven to more interesting direction.

referenced by

2009/11/27 When is a question about prognosis a soup question?

2009/09/16 If it ain't a soup question, keep it the hell out of the room

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