So, my 5 year old is fond of asking "Why?" to just about everything I say. Please clean your room..."Why?" he responds. Please eat your salad..."Why?" he asks. Please don't let Mommy back in the house..."Why?", OK...just kidding there. But it has gotten a bit annoying. Finally I said "Stop saying why and just do it!" to which he responded "Why?"

Then I remembered that "Why?" is probably the best question of all time and that I should encourage that kind of thinking in this man cub. But there is actually an even better question than "why?" and that is the question I pose to you DougO..."Why ask why?"

A: Why ask why? Because it gives you time to think of your next move while Mom and Dad fumble for an answer. Kids are sharp.

Addendum: My readership has expressed shock and dismay at the simplicity and brevity of my answer to this question, so, in a rare case of pandering to/responding positively to the public, I've decided to pad it out a bit more.

To be honest, the question of "why" is so broad a topic that it begs a short answer just to keep those exasperating philosophy grad students (future waiters of America) from having the time to grab hold of it and write theses on the subject. Knowing that this is a possibility, I will risk it and say that "why" is second only to "what" in popularity when people are curious about anything. "What" is absolutely the easiest question - "What is an aardvark?" "What are the current standings in the NCAA tournament?" "What do naked women look like?"- and is what the internet was made for. All it takes is a keyboard and mild interest, and BAM! Question answered.

"Why" is a different animal altogether. Discounting for the moment that "why" is, in fact, usually the very delaying tactic I describe in my first response (learned early and used constantly up through one's teens), asking "why" implies that you want to know more than just what the facts are, you also want to know why they should be that way. Rare indeed is the person who really wants to know why they can't have the car tonight, or why Democrats and Republicans can't get along. "Why" raises the specter of involvement, that the knowledge you receive could lead to action on your part, even if that action is to accept that the circumstance is beyond your control.

In the case of a 5-year-old, I have noticed that my own son takes the answers to his important why questions as a blueprint for immediate action.
Stephen: Why can't we go to the party now? (Thinking of ice cream and cake)
Me: We need to get a birthday present first.
My wife: I bet she would like an Iris. We have some growing in the back yard.
Stephen: ! (Patters off to back door, unremarked by myself or my wife)
My wife: ... where did Stephen go?
Me: (Sprint to back yard and relieve Stephen of large shovel, even now arcing downward towards My Wife's Iris bed)