Ah, rhetorical questions. Is there anything they can't do? ...Wait, don't answer that.
A Rhetorical Question Blunder is what happens when a character asks a question that they didn't need an answer to... and then gets an answer anyway. That answer will almost always be contrary to the point they were trying to make. Occasionally this can lead down a slippery slope as the asker tries to salvage the original intention.
Could easily lead to a Rhetorical Request Blunder. Particularly common when dealing with someone who is Sarcasm-Blind. Related to Analogy Backfire. Often the answer is a Mathematician's Answer.
Despite the common use of the phrase when the asker sees this coming, this has nothing to do with Don't Answer That, which is a trope about Perp Sweating.
See About Rhetorical Questions for why rhetorical questions don't work well on a wiki. Blunt "Yes" is a subtrope.
open/close all folders
In an ad for Quizno's, a man sitting on a bench eating a Quizno's sub notices the man next him (played by Jim Parsons) is eating an untoasted sub and asks, "What were you, raised by wolves?" A Cutaway Gag shows that he in fact was, and it cuts back to the man answering in the affirmative.
In Bleach, 3 Captains of the Gotei 13 "lost" their cloak during a fight, and have been called up by the Captain Commander Yamamoto to explain.
Yamamoto: You fools, what do you think of the Captain's cloak?
Reed Richards: Sorry. I thought he was actually asking.
In one issue of The Sandman, Morpheus grants a 14th-century peasant immortality to see how he'll adapt to it, and the man agrees to meet Morpheus again in a pub 100 years later. When they see each other again in 1489, the man raves about all of the exciting technological advances that he's seen in the last century (including chimneys, playing cards and... handkerchiefs) and Morpheus sarcastically remarks, "Most impressive. What will you people think of next?" Not realizing that he's mocking him, the man responds "Something to get rid of fleas, with any luck..."
Ultimate Spider-Man - In their first meeting, Nick Fury drops in on Peter to explain how he and SHIELD can't go after Norman Osborn until they can legally prove he's a threat - which likely means after Osborn's attacked someone Peter cares about. Peter, at the end of his rope, goes into I Just Want to Be Normal mode. Fury replies that "optimism is a revolutionary act." Peter sarcastically asks if Fury got that from the guy who poked out his eye. Fury springs out of his chair, gets right in Peter's face, and says "Yes."
In chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the New Chance Tonks brought Sirius to see her parents after Veritaserum questioning by Madame Bones revealed his innocence. When they reacted with shock and hostility she said "Do you think I'd bring a dangerous criminal home for supper? On second thought, scratch that."
Freeza: Really, killing [children] is a kindness. I could retract that kindness if you wish, but then who's the villain?
Freeza: N-no, that was a rhetorical question.
Goku: And I gave you a rhetorical answer.
The Infinite Loops: Silver Spoon is angry with the Crusaders for stealing away her friend, unaware they're in a time loop and she's not. So when they come up to talk to her she's not very happy...
Silver Spoon: What do you all want? Scootaloo: Well, I personally want to revolutionize the field of aeronautics and join the Wonderbolts. I'm pretty sure Sweetie here wants to become a pop star, and Apple Bloom wants to build an army of robots to do her bidding. Apple Bloom: Not an army. Ah'd be fine with a small squad o' twelve, Ah'm not greedy. Silver Spoon: ...what?
Misato: "Shinji, don't you think you're going a little too fast?" Shinji: "If she likes me, I guess it's okay." Misato: "I like you Shinji. Are you going to fuck me now?" Shinji: "Do you want me to?"
In an omake for Nothing But Trouble, when Naruto/Kyuubi motorboats Tsunade and his apprentice demands to go next, Tsunade irritably asks, "Anyone else?" Everyone else present forms a line, including the Mizukage.
When Monet first joins the Foxhound Pirates in Shinobi Of The High Seas, she takes a look at the heavily injured Soren and asks if they just threw him on a bed and called it a day. Yes. Yes they did.
Film — Animated
In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice shrinks back to normal size after calling the Queen out, the Queen rhetorically asks what she was saying and the Cheshire Cat answers. But unlike many other examples, it's likely he knew it was a rhetorical question and he did it for a laugh.
Scuttle: Have I ever been wrong? (Pause) I mean when it's important!
Pocahontas has one between Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins. For bonus points, Ratcliffe ends his monologue with another rhetorical question.
Double bonus points when (if you read the ending credits) you realise Ratcliffe and Wiggins are voiced by the same person.
Governor Ratcliffe: Wiggins, why do you think those insolent heathens attacked us? Wiggins: Because we invaded their land and cut down their trees and dug up their earth? Governor Ratcliffe: It's the gold! They have it and they don't want us to take it from them. Well, I'll just have to take it by force then, won't I?
Monty Python's Life of Brian has an extended example: when Reg asks "What have the Romans ever done for us?" the other revolutionaries begin offering examples, eventually leading to:
"All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" "Brought peace?" "Oh, peace! SHUT UP!"
Right after Bloom meets Bialystock at the beginning of The Producers:
Max Bialystock: How dare you condemn me without knowing all the facts! Leo Bloom: Mr. Bialystock, I don't condemn— Max Bialystock: Shut up! I'm having a rhetorical conversation.
Bialystock: Have I ever steered you wrong? Franz Liebkind: Always. Bialystock: Never mind!
Serenity has one such example, where in the midst of an argument between the crew, Mal goes into schoolteacher mode:
The Dragon Errol from Snatch has this problem. His boss Brick Top just wants him to be intimidating Dumb Muscle, but Errol has a tendency to answer rhetorical questions with pragmatic, ruthless advice. Eventually it leads Brick Top to get slightly fed up. "It was a rhetorical question, Errol. What have I told you about thinking?"
Evil Genius: That's a good question. Why have I let the Supreme Being keep me here in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness? Robert: Because you... Evil Genius: Shut up, I'm speaking rhetorically. Robert: Oh, of course, of course...
Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler: Trust me. Have I ever lied to you? Bezam Planter: Well, one night last month you sold me a sausage in a bun and you said— Throat: I was speaking rhetorically. Bezam: Oh. Well. I dunno about rhetorically.
In Going Postal, Mr. Groat informs Moist von Lipwig that he has to take "The Postman's Walk" if he wants to be accepted as the new Postmaster by the Order of the Post. Moist decides to go through with what he thinks is just a harmless initiation ritual, asking "What's the worst that could happen?" After a bit of thought, Mr. Groat responds "The worst that could happen is you lose all your fingers on one hand, are crippled for life, and break half the bones in your body. Oh, and then they don't let you join."
In Thud!, Fred Colon comments on the trouble in Koom Valley with the immortal question "War, Nobby, huh. What is it good for?" This being Discworld, where rhetorical questions never caught on, Nobby answers the question with things like "Freeing slaves?" and "Protecting yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?"
A Running Gag is for Vetinari to ask "Look out the window and tell me what you see" and get pointless but true answers like "Fog" or "A small dog watching a man taking a piss in an alley." What he wants is some kind of comment on the view of Ankh-Morpork.
The undefined-but-clearly-supernatural nature of Messrs Croup and Vandemar in Neverwhere is shown when Vandemar sticks a knife through the back of his own hand, doesn't bleed, and shows no pain. Shortly afterward, Mr Croup makes a comment about "Oh, Mr Vandemar, if you cut us, do we not bleed?" Vandemar's response is a carefully considered "No."
In A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, Richars Vorrutyer gives a speech with a lengthy list of insulting rhetorical questions. Then someone answers him.
In The War God's Own, Halashu asks who would be fool enough to claim that Bahzell Bahnakson is a Champion of Tomanak. Cue the War God appearing to say: "I would."
Hamuul does it again regarding Garrosh's apparently unwise delay in the attack on Theramore.
Garrosh: And now, can you tell me what my decision to wait has brought us?
The first Red Dwarf novel has the deceased Arnold J. Rimmer do this to himself when deciding that his status as living impaired need not stop his ambition:
Well, he wasn't going to let it get him down any more. He wasn't going to let it stand in his way. He was dead, there was no use bleating about it. Was that a reason to quit? Did Napoleon quit when he was dead? Did Julius Caesar quit when he was dead?
Live Action TV
On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick Solomon responds to the question "You think you're the smartest person in the world, don't you?" with "For the thousandth time, yes!"
Penny: "And what kind of doctor removes feet from asses?" Sheldon: "Depending on the depth, that would be either a proctologist or a general surgeon.... Oh."
In Warehouse 13, Artie is looking at the Warehouse's electrical schematic and muttering to himself.
Artie: For crying out loud. Who designed this thing? Leena: Thomas Edison. Nicola Tesla. And M. C. Escher.
One Mark Wary sketch on The Wedge features his manager asking "How could Mark possibly have impregnated three women at the same time?" Mark, sitting next to him, unhelpfully answers "Daylight Savings."
Mr. Whitmore: How many of us have lost countless productive hours plagued by unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings? Xander raises his hand. Mr. Whitmore: That was a rhetorical question, Mr. Harris, not a poll.
And in "Bargaining, Part I":
Xander:(to Willow) Excuse me? Who made you the boss of the group? Anya: You did. Tara: You said Willow should be boss. Anya: And then you said "let's vote," and it was unanimous... Tara: ...and then you made her this little plaque, that said "Boss of Us," you put little sparkles on it... Xander: Valid points all.
In "Seeing Red" Buffy is up against a vampire who's putting up a good fight.
Buffy: How hard you gonna hit when you're blowin' in the wind?
(Vampire kicks Buffy into a tombstone just as she dusts him)
Buffy:(groaning in pain) That was rhetorical.
And in The Dark Age:
Buffy: Have I ever let you down?
Giles: Do you want me to answer that, or shall I just glare?
Played with in "Crush".
Spike: What the bleeding hell is wrong with you bloody women? What the hell does it take? Why do you bitches torture me?
Buffy: Which question do you want me to answer first?
In "The Harvest", Angel tries to talk Buffy out of going into the sewers.
Buffy: I've got a friend down there. Or at least a potential friend. You do you know what it's like to have a friend? (Angel bows his head) ...That wasn't supposed to be a stumper.
Cordy bitching at Xander for dragging her out of bed for a ride. "What am I, mass transportation?" ("What's My Line, Pt.1")
Xander: "That's what a lot of the guys say, but it's just locker-room talk."
After Wesley is fired, Cordelia barges into the library and demands to know what happened to him. Xander responds, "Inbreeding?"
Angel gets in on it too, when Cordelia is chastising him for letting a demon get away:
Angel: Do you know how hard it is to think with a rebar through your torso? Cordelia: Actually, I do. Benefits of a Sunnydale education. note She actually knows double. Not only did it happen to the character, but the actresshad the same thing happen as well.
Grace: I'm doing the right thing, right? Will: Well— Grace: What?! Will: Nothing. No, I just—I'm just saying—as a friend, I want you to know that if you were thinking of calling it off, don't worry about the people out there. Don't worry about all those gifts. You do what your heart tells you is right. Grace:...Are you freaking kidding me with this?! Will: "If," I said "if!" Grace: The question was rhetorical. That means you're supposed to say "yes." Will: That's not what "rhetorical" means. Grace: Are we talking about what "rhetorical" means or about how you're freaking me out right now?! Will: Am I supposed to answer that or is that rhetorical too?
In Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock sometimes answers rhetorical questions. For example, this exchange from "The Apple," after Spock has risked his life to save Kirk:
Kirk: Trying to get yourself killed. Do you know how much Starfleet has invested in you? Spock: One hundred twenty two thousand two hundred — Kirk cuts him off Kirk: Never mind. But thanks.
Supernatural did one of these in the episode "Bedtime Stories".
Dean: "Dude, could you be more gay? ...Don't answer that."
Community — in "Competitive Wine-Tasting" Professor Sheffield, who teaches a class critically analysingWho's the Boss?, opens his first class with the question: "Who was the Boss?" He intends it as a rhetorical question — unfortunately, as Abed ends up conclusively and empirically demonstrating, this particular question has a quite clear and definite answer.
So the professor moves on to "What was happening?" (a course critically analyzing What's Happening!!)
Slings and Arrows has this dialogue exchange (from "Steeped In Blood"), which perfectly typifies the difference in philosophy between Geoffrey and Richard.
Geoffrey: Which would you prefer: an empty house with a great play, or a full house with a piece of garbage? Richard: GARBAGE! GARBAGE! I want GARBAGE!
Debra: I've sat through god knows how many briefings; why am I so fucking nervous? Dexter: Because everyone'll be looking to see if you know what you're doing? Debra: Do me a favor: when you get back to your desk, look up the word "rhetorical".
Whitaker:(sarcastically) And how many people do you think you can pluck off the streets before people start noticing?
Molly:(completely serious) Approximately 300.
When Samantha Carter is introduced in the pilot of Stargate SG-1, the men in the briefing room are somewhat annoyed that "another scientist"note O'Neill's words (and a female one, no less) is being foisted on them for the recon mission to Abydos. Maj. Kawalsky condescendingly asks her if she has ever pulled out of a simulated bombing run in an F-16 at eight-plus g's. Carter's response is a Blunt "Yes", and Kawalsky has to stop and process that before saying that traveling through the stargate feels worse.
After Daniel has been kidnapped by the Big Bad (Adria) and may have undergone a Face-Heel Turn, he tries to convince his teammates that he's really himself and hasn't been brainwashed so they will let him undertake a mission that might make the situation far worse.
Daniel (to O'Neill): Have I ever let you down? (O'Neill raises his eyebrows and prepares to speak) No, don't answer that. Have I ever let you down when it really mattered?
Babylon 5, choosing between sending a signal about the presence of a Shadow fleet and risking detection, or laying low until they can get the engines back on line:
Ivanova: Who wants to live forever?
Marcus: I do, actually. But what the hell... Signal away.
The George Lopez Show: Max has been so stressed from schoolwork that he's developed insomnia. When George tries to reassure him...
George: Then you've gotta take the pressure off yourself, Max. Okay, what's the worst thing that could happen if you failed the fifth grade?
Max: I'll be humiliated, I'll lose all my friends, I'll have to redo all the work I hated doing this year, and every day I go to class, I'll know I'm stupider than everyone else there!
George: You've obviously given this some thought.
In The West Wing, during President Bartlet's Establishing Character Moment, a right-wing Christian fundamentalist asks him "If our children can buy pornography on any street corner for five dollars, isn't that too high a price to pay for free speech?" clearly expecting Bartlet to either agree with him, or try to wriggle out of giving a straight answer. He's rather taken aback when Bartlet immediately replies with a Blunt "No". An unusual example of this trope, in that this was not a case of the unwanted answer coming from someone who didn't understand what the asker was expecting, and the following two minutes prove how totally outmatched the fundamentalists are by Bartlet both in intellect and force of personality.
An early episode of Dharma and Greg has a no-longer-hippie friend of Dharma's father explain, rhetorically, "How long can you keep driving around in a VW bus with shag carpeting on the walls?" Father replies after a moment's thought: "Fourteen years."
Paige: Those cheerleaders think they're so special. What have they got that we haven't got?
Nicole: Five guys fighting to carry their lunch trays.
Paige: Besides that.
Nicole: Really, really perfect bodies.
Paige: You're not helping, Nicole.
Nicole: I think the one on the left is a concert violinist.
In the musical of Wicked, Glinda the Good Witch enters in the first song to cheers and halloos. She, smiling, replies "It's good to see me, isn't it?" They all respond, "Yes!" She (still smiling) answers, "You needn't respond; that was rhetorical."
In Ghost Trick, Bailey the prison guard blunders over his own rhetorical question when he replies to a co-worker implying he's stupid with "What's that supposed to mean?", then explains apropos of nothing that it was just an expression of indignation.
Wrex: Hey, Tali. Your people created the geth, ever talk about it?
Tali: Do the krogan talk about starting a stupid war that got your species sterilized?
Wrex: All the time.
In Mass Effect 3, during a sidequest where you traverse a virtual world, Shepard comes across recordings of the quarians before the geth drove them off their homeworld and wonders why the quarians are wearing their environmental suits. Legion, a friendly geth, responds that the recordings are based off Shepard's own memories and asks Shepard how many quarians s/he has seen without their suits. If your Shepard is male and romanced Tali in the second game, he replies: "Well...one."
Cortana has one of these done to her in Halo 2 when the Chief and some Helljumpers are deployed onto Halo Installation 05 by HEV.
Cortana: Could we possibly make any more noise?
Chief grabs a missile launcher out of his pod.
Cortana: ... I guess so.
In World of Warcraft, this happens in a randomly occurring conversation between Kil'ruk the Wind-Reaver and Ka'roz the Locust.
Kil'ruk the Wind-Reaver: I have heard of your "heroism," Locust. They say your raids on mogu labor camps and farmlands delayed the completion of the wall by decades. I cannot argue with your results, but how can a proud warrior of the swarm make his name chasing down fleeing peasants and farmhands?
Ka'roz the Locust: Easily: You don't have to leap as far between kills.
In the Sluggy Freelance story "KITTEN", Max spends most of a large comic near the beginning explaining to the audience who the characters are. At the end, this turns out to be his answer to another character's question "Who the hell do you kids think you are?"
Freeza: Oh please, everyone's always on about the children. I already tried leaving them alive, but all they do is grow up under my rule or dedicate their pathetic lives to revenge. Usually both. Really, killing them is a kindness. I can retract that kindness if you wish, but then who's the villain?
Bart: This isn't bad! Homer: "Isn't bad"? Tell me one thing mankind has ever done that's any better? Lisa: The Renaissance? Homer: This is better!
And again in "Dead Putting Society":
Lisa: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Bart: Piece of cake. [clenches his hand so the fingers slap against the palm] Lisa: No, Bart, it's a 3000-year-old riddle with no answer. It's supposed to clear your mind of conscious thought. Bart: No answer? Lisa, listen up! [clenches his hand again]
And also heavily lampshaded in "Mother Simpson", as seen in the page quote.
The Beast With A Billion Backs has a similar example:
Farnsworth: I know this anomaly is terrifying, but, as scientists, is it not our sworn duty to seek out knowledge, even at the cost of our very lives? Stephen Hawking's head: No.
"Love's Labours Lost In Space" has this inversion:
Zapp Brannigan: We have failed to uphold Brannigan's Law. However, I made it with a hot alien babe. And, in the end, is that not what man has dreamt of since first he looked up at the stars? [Beat] Kif, I'm asking you a question!
Similar to the Futurama example, the episode "Predator" of Sealab 2021 has this inverted example:
Stormy: You and I may have to repopulate the human species, Debby!
Debby: That's disgusting!
Stormy: (flirtingly) Is it? ...[beat]… (seriously) Well is it?
The bit is echoed later in the same episode with Captain Murphy and Dr. Quinn.
NightmareMoon: Am I not royal enough for you? Don't you know who I am? Pinkie Pie: Ooh, ooh, more guessing games! Um, Hokey Smokes? How 'bout... Queen Meanie? No, Black Snooty! Black Snooty!
[cue Applejack trying to shut Pinkie up by stuffing a cupcake in her mouth]
Pinkie does it again in "Dragonshy":
Rainbow Dash: Hey! What are you waiting for, an invitation? Pinkie Pie: Ooh, I think I have one in my bag!
Sweetie Belle gets in on the act in "Sisterhooves Social":
Rarity: Sweetie Belle, what am I going to do with you?! Sweetie Belle: Oh, we could paint together! We could ride bikes, play chess, sing a song, catch frogs, pillow fight... Rarity: That's not what I meant!
The Abridged SeriesFriendship is Witchcraft changes this exchange, though keeps the rhetorical part. When Sweetie Belle accidentally activates Rarity's one-use, self hugging sweater, this exchange occurs;
In the Beetlejuice episode "Poultrygeist," Beetlejuice is tormented by a sentient roast chicken from his refrigerator that has an answer for every question which it writes on a note pad. Lydia has the solution—ask it questions that have no answer.
Lydia: What's the sound of one hand clapping? (Chicken is about to write but is stumped)
Beetlejuice: And if a log falls on a lumberjack in the forest and no one's around, does he make a sound? (Chicken now getting frustrated)
Lydia: (winks to B.J.) Now here's the clincher. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (Chicken loses it and explodes)
An episode of Johnny Test where Johnny uses a device to reanimate the corpses of Porkbelly's founding fathers has this exchange:
Lila: Johnny, how many times have your father and I said not to bring back the dead?!
In the earlier instance, Max is trying to convince PJ to ask Pete to take him fishing. This probably would have worked better if Pete weren't a Jerkass who treats PJ very poorly:
Max: Aww, Peej! Fishing with your dad! What could be more fun?
PJ: Eating glass! You got any idea what fishing with him is like?!
PJ is just as guilty as Max is of giving Pete too much credit in this form, however, as he asks this when it's discovered Pete has been stealing water from Goofy's pipe. PJ, at least, catches himself:
PJ: Wait, what's that supposed to mean, Max, huh? Are you suggesting that my dad would do something unethical or dishonest? (realization) 'Scuse me. For the sake of our friendship, don't answer that.
In the Five-Episode Pilot of Gargoyles, when names are being given to the gargoyles that don't have any, the one who would be named Hudson argues against the ludicrousy of naming everything, asking if the sky and the river need names. He is then told that the river in question is called the Hudson River.
Blendin: Do you have any idea how many rules you just broke? [Beat] I'm asking. I wasn't there. It was probably a lot, right?
In Leroy & Stitch, Hämsterviel has the following conversation with minion Gantu:
Hämsterviel: I think that went very well, don't you?
Gantu: Actually, I think...
Hämsterviel: I did not ask you what you think!
Gantu: Actually, you did. I...
Hämsterviel: No! It was a rhetorical question! Don't you know what a rhetorical question is?
Gantu: Yes, sir. I believe it's...
Hämsterviel: No, no! That was a rhetorical question too! Argh!
Queer Duck: When they attend the funeral of a friend who died of AIDS:
Openly Gator: (sobbing) Why him? Why him?
Queer Duck: Oh, I don't know, because he was a condom-hating, intravenous drug user with a Haitian boyfriend?
Openly Gator: That was a rhetorical wail!
Batman: The Animated Series: In "Joker's Millions", the Clown Prince of Crime has a caper go sour because he keeps running out of bullets, squirting-flower acid, etc. His problems continue when he attempts to flee the scene:
Joker: I thought I told you to get gas! Harley Quinn: We're broke, remember? What was I supposed to do? Fill the tank, shoot the guy, and drive off? Joker:(affirmative "mm-hmm" mumble). Harley Quinn:Now you tell me!
Subverted in Donkey Kong Country. When thinks start to go bad for King K.Rool, he loudly asks "Where is Klump when I need him!?" Krusha, of all lizards, asks whether or not that was rhetorical.
Sokka: Look! Can your fortune telling explain THAT!? [Cut to a volcano clearly on the verge of eruption, despite the town fortune-teller's reading that the volcano wouldn't erupt that year] Villager: Pff. Can your SCIENCE explain why it RAINS? Sokka: YES! YES IT CAN!
Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister in the 1960s once gave a speech in dockyard town of Chatham. Wilson extolled the virtues of the navy, and asked a rhetorical question: "And why am I saying all this?" A heckler from the crowd replied: "Because you are in Chatham!"