This is more a matter of parliamentary procedure than of correct English, but people are generally confused about what “calling the question” means. They often suppose that it means simply “let’s vote!” and some even imagine that it is necessary to call for the question before a vote may be taken. You even see deferential meeting chairs pleading, “Would someone like to call for the question?”

But “calling the question” when done properly should be a rare occurrence. If debate has dragged on longer than you feel is really warranted, you can “call the question,” at which time the chair has to immediately ask those assembled to vote to determine whether or not debate should be cut off or continue. The motion to call the question is itself not debatable. If two-thirds of those voting agree that the discussion should have died some time ago, they will support the call. Then, and only then, will the vote be taken on the question itself.

Potentially this parliamentary maneuver would be a great way to shut down windy speakers who insist on prolonging a discussion when a clear consensus has already been arrived at; but since so few people understand what it means, it rarely works as intended.

Chairs: when someone “calls the question,” explain what the phrase means and ask if that is what’s intended. Other folks: you’ll get further most of the time just saying “Let’s vote!”

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