Case 1 The subject was telling the experimenter, a member of the subject's car pool, about having had a flat tyre while going to work the previous day.
Subject: I had a flat tyre.
Experimenter: What do you mean, you had a flat tyre?
The subject appeared momentarily stunned. Then she answered in a hostile way:
What do you mean, 'What do you mean?' A flat tyre is a flat tyre. That is what I meant. Nothing special. What a crazy question!
Subject: Hi, Ray. How is your girlfriend feeling?
Experimenter: What do you mean, 'How is she feeling?' Do you mean physical or mental?
Subject: I mean how is she feeling? What's the matter with you? (He looked peeved.)
Experimenter: Nothing. Just explain a little clearer what do you mean?
Subject: Skip it. How are your Med. School applications coming?
Experimenter: What do you mean, 'How are they?'
Subject: You know what I mean.
Experimenter: I really don't.
Subject: What's the matter with you? Are you sick?
Case 3 The victim waved his hand cheerily.
Subject: How are you?
Experimenter: How am I in regard to what? My health, my finances, my school work, my peace of mind ....?
Subject: (Red in the face and suddenly out of control): Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don't give a damn how you are.
My friend and I were talking about a man whose overbearing attitude annoyed us.
Subject: I'm sick of him.
Experimenter: Would you explain what is wrong with you that you are sick?
Subject: Are you kidding me? You know what I mean.
Experimenter: Please explain your ailment.
Subject: (He listened to me with a puzzled look.): What came over you? We never talk this way, do we?