How come I can't buy a toilet that reports how much water it has used today, this month, this year? (The New York Times)

Is "how come" really very informal English?

I ask because the book I'm reading says that it is, but, strangely, I found many occurrences of "how come" in English newspapers.

However, if that book is wrong, can anybody explain whether "how come" is more proper of "why" in some contexts rather than in others?

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    While I can't authoritatively explain a real difference between the two, it's worth mentioning that with "why" you would invert the sentence, but with "how come" you would not (eg Why can't you go? vs How come you can't go?) – yoozer8 Mar 28 '13 at 20:34
  • Not only are they synonymous, but they even mean the same thing when used as a standalone question. Why? How come? Those two essentially ask the same question. – J.R. Mar 28 '13 at 21:58
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    @FumbleFingers Exactly. With how come, it's "How come you dont...". With why, it's "Why don't you...". – yoozer8 Mar 28 '13 at 23:22
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    @snailplain: How come someone voted to reopen? It wasn't my reopen vote, but it's not a big mystery to me. "What does X mean?" and "What's the difference between X and Y?" aren't really the same question – even if someone happens to mention Y in their answer to the first question. Yet I can see why some would argue the other way as well; that's why it takes 5 votes to reach a consensus. – J.R. Mar 29 '13 at 9:16
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    @snailplane: Great comment. I'd take it one step further, though, and mention that the answer(s) that prompt the closure for reason of duplication should answer the question fully. It's entirely possible for there to be an 80% overlap, meaning there might be something left to say about the matter. In any case, though, the O.P. here has gotten good answers to this inquiry: one answer here, a couple more there, plus some good comments here. Not to mention, in this case, the O.P. even voted to close as a duplicate, so we can assume there's a satisfactory answer at the other question! – J.R. Mar 30 '13 at 11:17

My understanding is that it is just an informal introductory phrase equal to why is it this/that way as in

Why is it this way? I can't buy a toilet that reports how much water it has used today, this month or this year.

Rather than form it as a question, you announce that a question/query is next. Then you can use a statement, though its still asking for some reply about it.

I think its more often used when you want to disagree with the following statement. In the example, the speaker probably disagrees that the statement's an acceptable solution.