Frequently asked questions

A Roz Chast cartoon in the latest (2/1/21) New Yorker:

Questions asked often enough that they border on clichés. They’re frequently asked questions — but they’re not Frequently Asked Questions, Frequently Asked Questions being an idiomatic expression usually reduced to an alphabetic abbreviation, the noun FAQ.


noun FAQ [with pronunciation as an initialism]: a list of questions and answers relating to a particular subject, especially one giving basic information for users of a website.

Expanded discussion in Wikipedia:

A frequently asked questions (FAQ) forum is often used in articles, websites, email lists, and online forums where common questions tend to recur, for example through posts or queries by new users related to common knowledge gaps. The purpose of an FAQ is generally to provide information on frequent questions or concerns; however, the format is a useful means of organizing information, and text consisting of questions and their answers may thus be called an FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked.

Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation varies. FAQ is most commonly pronounced as an initialism, “F-A-Q”, but may also be pronounced as an acronym, “FAQ” [ /fæk/ — very rarely, in my experience].

Chast’s cartoon recovers something like a literal sense for the expression frequently asked questions. There are contexts where the expression is to be taken entirely literally. As on the glassdoor site in “How To Give Original Answers To 7 Cliché [that is, so frequently asked that they count as clichés] Interview Questions” by Heather Huhman on 7/17/19:

Your answers to the cliché questions say a lot about you. They can make or break your chance at landing the job. It’s essential to prepare original answers for the cliché questions you know you’ll hear at your next job interview. The strongest answers are unique and will give you a leg up in the competition.

Here are seven of the most cliché interview questions and how to answer them with originality

— 1. Tell me about yourself.
— 2. Why do you want to work here?
— 3. What are your biggest strengths?
— 4. What is your biggest weakness?
— 5. Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
— 6. How do you handle conflict?
— 7. Why should we hire you?

One Response to “Frequently asked questions”

  1. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    I’m old enough to remember William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man, 1956. Whyte claimed you could ace any interview by keeping these six points in mind when you answered a question:

    I love my father and my mother, but my father a little bit more.

    I like things pretty much the way they are.

    I never worry much about anything.

    I don’t care for books or music much.

    I love my wife and children.

    I don’t let them get in the way of company work.

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