Off to a weekend walk in the Dolomites, I hope to pass by Verona, and maybe breeze by the balcony where Shakespeare’s fictional character, Juliet asks the iconic rhetorical question: “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou?” where wherefore in Old English is closer in meaning to why in modern English, so the sentence today would probably sound more like, “Romeo, Romeo, why’dyou have to be a Montague?” which is, of course, referring to the frustrating and longstanding feud between Romeo’s Montagues and Juliet’s Capulets. Like so many English adverbs tailed by hidden but powerful prepositions, fore in wherefore gives a kind of what for emotive vibe to the why question, lending the rhetorical question with impact: “What for are you a freakin’ Montague?”
Rhetorical questions usually don’t have satisfactory answers, and there wasn’t one for the senior tourist in the London underground the other day who asked: “Why are there are no elevators around here?” I said, “Sorry,” to try and be a good Brit and offered to take the lighter of his two suitcases because the man was lagging behind his partner who had gained on him with her visibly lighter cabin roller. The gentleman obliged me, and as I was making my way up, another person swooped up the woman’s roller and sped all the way to the top.
“Thank you!” the woman called after him as I arrived and set down the man’s suitcase next to hers. When I turned around before making my way across the platform, the man sheepishly thanked me too, saying, “Where are you from?” Familiar with Old English and rhetorical questions, I figured he already knew the answer so I left with a wave and a Montague smile.