Why do people say "I just have a quick question" ?

I never used to hear this at all, but for the past few years, many people–and my students in particular–say, “I just have a quick question.”
As opposed to what? A slow question? It could be just a brief question, meaning that not very many words are involved. But that doesn’t mean that the answer to said question would necessarily be short. Are they worried about taking up someone else’s time?

I used to ask this quite a bit, more of a minor hijack to a discussion to a regular discussion.

Granted, maybe a brief question is grammatically correct, but if I’m going to interrupt a good discussion because I missed a concept or don’t understand a new term, I’d honestly raise a hand and say, “Um, hey, quick question, but just who the hell mentioned Neoplatonism?”

I’m an Electrical Engineer. I know nothing of Philosophy.

I hate when people do that. Sometimes the “Um, okay, so I just have this one really quick question; seriously, it’s really short, I promise, so can I ask my question? Is that okay, or would it be interrupting, because I really…” takes longer than the actual question.

I say that, although more online than in person. I usually only say it if I know someone is going offline (or going someplace else) soon. I suppose it’s testing the waters… asking if they have a moment of time to answer a brief question. If I just say “I have a question” then I might seem more inconsiderate to their time concerns since it could be a question that will take a long time to ask and to answer. If I just ask the question, they might be in a bigger hurry than I thought, and be annoyed by me asking them a question while they have their foot out the door. So “I have a quick question” says A) I’d like to ask you something, is that okay? and B) This thing I want to ask shouldn’t take too long.

If I were about to go offline and someone quickly IMed me “I have a question!” I’d probably say “Sorry, leaving now” and go on my merry way, but if I were told “I have a quick question!” I’d be more likely to stay and hear it out, assuming it’d only take a minute or so. Just asking the question would get an answer too (if it were really a ‘quick question’) but I’d be a little bit annoyed.

So… for me, it’s just a check on the time constraints of the person being questioned.

When I worked in retail I heard this all the time from customers. Just as I was finishing up with a customer I’d walk back to the job I was working on, only to have another customer come up to me and say, “excuse me, I just have a quick question.” Sometimes it really was a quick, easy question, and other times it was not. The worst ones I dealt with who had “quick” questions that weren’t, were the ones I would get just before stepping off the floor to go to lunch or to leave for the day. :rolleyes: When this was the case I gave quick answers.

I try and save additional time by just saying, “Quick question!”.

Well sometimes (in class lectures) you do know it’s going to be quick: “One quick question. Is x the radius or the diameter?” Sometimes, though, people seem to have no clue: “One quick question. What’s calculus?”