A test question in a welding class was, "Can you light a cigarette with a [welding] torch?" I answered yes. I'd seen almost every welder I knew do it. The instructor marked it wrong, and I girded up to do battle. He explained to me in rather condescending tones (I was one of two women in his class and he wasn't pleased that females were invading male turf) how unsafe it would be to have the torch up to one's face. Duh. Tell that to the welders. I argued that the question would then be better worded "Should you light a cigarette...," there being considerable difference between can and should. Might makes right and I still missed the question, such is the power of he who wields the red pencil.
I was reminded of that situation as I've struggled for the past two weeks to complete the Farm Census form, due yesterday. I so dislike ambiguity, and this form is rife with questions open to interpretation. How many acres in the property? That was easy. How many acres are in pasture, permanent pasture, wooded pasture? How many acres are devoted to house, including roads, and not to pasture? Shoot, I don't know. How much of the property is used for farm buildings? Since the goat barn is in the middle of their pasture, should I deduct that from pasture acreage? I mean, I'd like to be accurate. In addition to many other questions regarding livestock, they asked about sheep and goats. They asked no questions about rams, but wanted to know how many ewes I have. Don't rams count? (Not that I have any; Poppy is a spinster ewe.) How many chickens and are they for meat, for eggs, for other? How many [of each animal] were removed from the property during 2012? Removed? What does "removed" mean? If they wanted to know if they were sold, why didn't they say so? A few chickens died of old age, and certainly they were "removed," but there was no place to indicate that. I called the "help line," hoping for clarification. Ha! I'd ask a question; the nice lady would say, "Hmm, that's a good one. Just put 'died'." I told her that didn't seem to be an option on the form. "No, I guess it's not." I'd ask about another section. "Oh, just put zero. It doesn't matter." Well, dang, if it doesn't matter, why ask it? The questions regarding income, property value, expenditures, etc., were far more invasive than the IRS, as were those regarding my ethnicity and gender. Since the twenty-page paper form had scribbles, mark-outs, erasures, and corrections, plus the fact it was the last day to send it in, I opted to file online. Just to add to my already high level of frustration, the questions online were either different or worded differently. Aaargh. Oh well, it's done to the best of my ambiguous ability.