An oft-used device in the English language is that one inflects one's voice upwards at the end of a sentence to denote a question mark. This device is also repeated in various other languages as well; French, for example, often uses this upward inflection - "C'est une question?" would have an upwards inflection and is perfectly good language, when the statement becomes a question (and as an alternative to using "est-ce que.") However, while in French, this use of the question mark is acceptable, even there using a question mark as a full stop or to denote a statement is still indefensible.

So why, then, do people nowadays, especially in the USA and Canada, insist on inflecting their voices upwards at the end of otherwise declarative sentences? If you still have trouble getting me on this, think of Michelle from American Pie and her many slightly icky tales:

"This one time? At band camp? I stuck a flute up my pussy?"

Now imagine this throughout a whole conversation or monologue. It can truly become extremely irritating, and it's no longer confined to North America. I overheard a conversation between two individuals in the bar of my halls of residence back in January of 2005; specifically, one in which a fellow law student named Chris and the student they had drafted in to act as barkeep, who we'll call Jaime, spoke about her past romantic life:

C - So what was it like living in Croydon then?
J - Well? It wasn't bad? And it was in Croydon that I had my first boyfriend? And in all honesty, he was crap? I mean, I didn't orgasm once? When I slept with him? So I went to my mother, and I said, "Mum, he's crap?" and she understood?"
C - I see.
J - Well? I got rid of him? Small-penised dunce that he was? And next time I saw him with some total slag? And I was well smug with myself?
C - So, what's Tim, your current boyfriend, like?
J - Tim? Oh, he's my bunny? We are, like, so in love with each other right now? He's on the OTC programme? And...

Get the idea? I could almost kill myself laughing imagining someone in the habit of inflecting upwards on a declarative sentence bawling someone out:

"MEADS I FUCKING HATE YOU AND YOUR CUNTING SIG...?"

As we can all agree, the floating question mark at the end of that outburst rather detracts from the sheer vitriol conveyed by it. So, then, why do people do it? Are they preternaturally shy? Do they doubt whether they do hate Meads and his cunting sig and that doubt begins to show mid-sentence? Have they watched The O.C. too much and did the characters' habits rub off on them? We may never know. Or maybe, as Richard Pini (co-author of indie comic ElfQuest) suggests on his blog, people are too frightened of saying something that someone may find offensive. In his words:

"We're so afraid of offending the hypersensitive group du jour that rather than make any statment with conviction, we'll ask it instead in the hope that the shield of our voiced unsureness will keep censure from raining down upon our heads."

Quite.

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