Follow TV Tropes


Mathematician's Answer

Go To
Well, hard to refute that...

Monty: Dad, is there a word to describe answers that are completely correct but entirely useless under the circumstances?
Prof. Jones: Yes, yes there is.

"Could you describe Mathematician's Answer here?"


"...Would you describe it here?"



Well, of course I'll describe it to you! First you asked me if I could describe it, then you asked if I would describe it, but you never actually asked me to describe the trope to you.

"Alright, then. Describe Mathematician's Answer here."

If you ask someone a question, and they give you an entirely accurate answer that is of no practical use whatsoever, they have just given you a Mathematician's Answer. A common form of this trope is to fully evaluate the logic of the question and give a logically correct answer. Such a response may prove confusing for someone who interpreted what they said colloquially.

Examples include requests for favors being superficially interpreted as requests for information ("Can you do me a favor?" being interpreted as "Are you capable of doing me a favor?"). Such examples are often used in linguistics and philosophy of language to illustrate how context and convention determine implicit meaning: "Do you have any spare pillows?" "Yes. Thank you for asking." People do not usually ask for trivial information or information they already possess, which is how competent speakers know not to provide the Mathematician's Answer. This is also a favorite of English teachers and Grammar Nazis, frequently going through something similar to "Can I come in?" "I don't know, can you?" "Uh, may I come in?".


Another common form is when a character is asked "Is it A or B?" they will respond "Yes" as if it were a question of Boolean logic rather than clarifying which specific one is the case. This occurs because a question of the form "Is the capital of Australia Melbourne or Canberra?" is ambiguous between "The capital of Australia is either Melbourne or Canberra. Which one is it?" and "Is it the case that the capital of Australia is either Melbourne or Canberra?". A logician may mistake the former for the latter, to the questioner's frustration. Though, they may also answer affirmatively if they know that at least one of those answers is correct but don't know which, or consider all answers correct, or because the second answer is the correct one, and their lack of response to the first is self-explanatory. This crops up a lot in Real Life, especially in the world of computers. On the former interpretation it is also a loaded question, so the askee may legitimately answer "No" (meaning it's none of the stated options) even if the questioner didn't mean it to be a Yes-or-No question.


A third variant is when a "How?" question (as in "By what method?") is answered with an adverb or adverbial phrase, as if the question had been "In what manner?". For example: "How did you get past the guards?" "With difficulty."

Can be used by characters for reasons ranging from snarky humor to intentional obfuscation to being extremely Literal-Minded — AI and other Literal Genies by their nature are very likely to fall into the last category.

Can overlap with Shaped Like Itself when the question is seeking a description, and with Captain Obvious, as these answers tend to be self-evident for anyone with a brain. Usually doubles as a Cryptically Unhelpful Answer, when the "mathematician" is deliberately trying to confound the questioner. Compare Non-Answer, which is a vague "answer" which does not answer the question at all. Mildly related to What's a Henway? and Not Actually the Ultimate Question. Can also overlap with Comically Missing the Point if the speaker genuinely thinks he/she is giving an answer.

The trope name comes from a family of jokes about the supposed habit of mathematicians to make unhelpful answers. For example: a man in a hot-air balloon asked someone where he was. "You're in a balloon", he answered. The rider concluded that it was a mathematician that said that, because the answer was perfectly correct and completely useless. (The joke sometimes continues with the mathematician deducing that the man in the balloon is a manager, because he has risen to his position with a lot of hot air, has no idea where he is or where he is going, and yet claims this is the fault of the innocent person standing below him.)

A final variation is also common - when given two seemingly contradictory possibilities and asked which is the case, to answer 'yes.' It is a somewhat snarky way to say that both are true, and that it is not in fact a contradiction.

All of Them is a subtrope that's its own Stock Phrase, as an answer to a question of quantity. See also What's a Henway?. Contrast Implied Answer when the question isn't answered at all, and the meaning is quite clear. Often the answer is Trivially Obvious. Related to Rhetorical Question Blunder: the person who was asked gives a logical answer that ruins the spirit of the question. Compare and contrast No Wrong Answers Except That One.

May be a feature of Anti-Humor when given as the punchline to a joke. Compare Literalist Snarking. A well-known example is the Chicken Joke: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" "To get to the other side."


    open/close all folders 

  • A commercial for Lyrica begins with a voiceover along the lines of: "I was wondering why I had muscle pain, so I asked my doctor. It turns out, connected to muscles are nerves which send pain messages to the brain."
    • Also a Captain Obvious moment. "Nerves send pain messages to the brain?! Noooo!"
    • This may be a rare example of an unintentional Mathematician's Answer. The idea could be to inform the audience that pain doesn't just exist in the pained part of the body, and that not all treatment of pain actually has to directly affect the pained part (something which may seem obvious to most people — especially if you know about phantom pain — but not to everyone).
  • A beer commercial has a guy describe something as beautiful, refreshing, etc. as he grabs a beer near a woman. The woman asks him if he's describing the beer or her; his reply is, "Yes."
  • A commercial for Grey Poupon mustard has one Rolls-Royce pull up to another, and they both roll down their windows. One man asks, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" The other replies, "But of course!" — then signals his chauffeur to drive away.
  • A Nike "Find Your Greatness" spot goes something like this: "Is it speed or endurance? Does it happen in two hours or four or six? Is it finishing strong or barely finishing? Yes." "It" is ostensibly greatness.
  • A series of ads for AT&T feature a man talking to young children in a kindergarten classroom. Here's one of the exchanges:
    Man: Are you competing for cutest kid right now?
    Girl: Yes.
    Man: What place are you in?
    Girl: Kindergarten?
    Man: That's adorable.
  • A board advertisement for McDonald's late-night menu has this gem: "Late dinner or breakfast? Yes."
    • In one of the Ronald & Me commercials, Ronald, teaching mathematics, puts a different number of potatoes in each of his pants pockets and asks the kids what he has now. His pants fall down, and one of the potatoes answers "Really heavy pants."

    Anime and Manga 
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple example!
    Random guy on the beach: Hey, beautiful, where are you from?
    Shigure: My... home.
  • From the English dub of Lupin III:
    Lupin: Which direction do you think the helicopter will be coming from?
    Goemon: Up.
  • Rurouni Kenshin has one of these during the Jinchu Arc:
    Chou: So who are we goin' after? The Boss? Or Battousai?
    Saito: Yes.
  • Bleach: When a very young Uryuu asks his father why he hates being a Quincy, Ryuuken replies "because there's no money in it", leaving Uryuu so shocked and troubled that he runs to his grandfather in tears, asking if Ryuuken's answer is a truth or lie. Souken points out that, because Ryuuken has a family to raise, it can be viewed as truthful. In fact, Ryuuken is telling the truth from any angle - being Quincy never pays the bills regardless of whether or not there's a family to raise. However, Uryuu wants to know why Ryuuken hates being a Quincy, yet neither Ryuuken nor Souken actually answer that question. They both sidestep it completely.
  • Jonah in Jormungand is awful at math, so when he's basically asked 22 times 3 while the Logistics crew are at an airport, he answers "A bunch."
  • Fairy Tail: During Lucy's fight with Byro, her opponent uses a concoction that causes him to transform into a giant octopus.
    Lucy: What the heck is that!?
    Virgo: An octopus tentacle.
  • This exchange in Haruhi Suzumiya, when the group encounters a giant cricket in an alternate dimension:
    Kyon: What is that!?
    Koizumi: A camel cricket.
    Kyon: Got it. Thanks, Captain Obvious.
  • In My Hero Academia, Todoroki somehow manages to completely refurbish his dorm room, making it look like it was taken wholesale out of a traditional Japanese house, complete with tatami mat flooring and a shoji door replacing the sliding glass door out to the veranda. His classmates ask how he was able to do it all in under a day entirely by himself. Todoroki's response? "I worked really hard."
  • In Chobits, Hideki and Chi receive a mysterious file with a map attached. Hideki wonders out loud what it is, and Sumomo declares that she knows, announcing that it's a file attachment. Hideki gets annoyed but Shinbo explains that Sumomo is a less advanced persocom who has trouble grasping abstract concepts like that.
  • Kotaro of Zombie Land Saga uses these to handwave any big questions. How did he raise the seven girls from the dead? Well, just like in a zombie movie! Why are they alive after they died? Well they're zombies, duh! Does he know what the population of Saga is? Of course he does, it's small! Needless to say, the girls are very frustrated by this.
  • A typical line from Rotom Dex in Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon does this whenever forced to choose between two or more equal probabilities. "I calculate a 50% chance that our friends went this way, and a 50% chance that they went this other way!" Other characters are quick to point out that he's not being very helpful, assuming they don't just ignore him entirely.
  • In Asteroid in Love, Mai gives one when Mira noticed she is holding two maps when they visit the shrine at new year's:
    Mira: Hey, Ino. Are those...?
    Mai: They're maps!
    Mira: Yeah, I know that! What I meant was... why do you have two?

    Audio Plays 
  • Bert and I...: A common element of the humor.
    • "You're in a balloon, you damned fool" is the punchline to "The Lighter Than Air Balloon".
    • From "Arthur Bunker Testifies": "You live there all your life?" "Not yet."
    • From "Not Just Yet": "Where is your wife?" "She's out t'the graveyard." (She died eight years ago.)
    • Pretty much all of "Directions". "Where does this road go?" "Don't go nowhere, Mister. Stays right here."
  • In I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus, when the Clem-clone asks "How are you, Doctor?" Dr. Memory replies in a flat monotone: "The Doctor is on."
  • In The Goon Show episode, "The Lost Emperor", young Neddie Seagoon is working in the Victoria and Albert Museum late at night when Moriarty and Grytpype come in and pull a gun on him.
    Grytpype: Draw the curtain Moriarty. Now then is there anyone else in the building apart from you?
    Seagoon: Yes, two others.
    Grytpype: What are they doing?
    Seagoon: Holding me up with a pistol.

    Films — Animated 
  • The CGI film Bee Movie has a scene between a human woman and a talking bee:
    Vanessa: How did you learn to do that?
    Barry B. Benson: Do what?
    Vanessa: That, that... the talking thing?
    Barry B. Benson: Same way you did, I guess. Mama, dada, honey, you pick it up.
  • In Shrek the Third, Pinocchio has a very confusing one in order to not lie to Prince Charming about where Shrek is. It involves Confusing Multiple Negatives. Unfortunately, it gets so aggravatingly confusing that his allies crack and tell the truth.
  • In Mumfie's Quest, when the Secretary of Night asks for Mumfie's name, his answer is "Yes!". The Secretary asks what he means, and he says that he has a name, and gives the correct response.
  • During the scene in Meet the Robinsons where Bud and Lewis try to make their way back to the garage, they stumble upon a dog wearing spectacles.
    Lewis: Why is your dog wearing glasses?
    Bud: Oh, 'cause his insurance won't pay for contacts.
  • El Arca goes with the Airplane!-style gag.
    God: I am going to send a deluge.
    Noah: A deluge?!
    God: Yes. It's a powerful rain that drowns everything.
    Noah: I know what a deluge is! What I want to know is...why?
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: In The Stinger, Spider-Man 2099 and 60's Spider-Man get into a heated argument about who pointed at the other first. J. Jonah Jameson and a cop witness this, and the cop also wonders who pointed first. Jameson helpfully says "Spider-Man pointed first, obviously!".

    Let's Play 
  • Out of the Achievement Hunter crew, Ryan is incredibly likely to use this tactic as a way of invoking Exact Words or Loophole Abuse, though he also does it to be a Deadpan Snarker. For instance, this example after he shot Jeremy in their 5th Trouble in Terrorist Town Let's Play:
    Jeremy: Ryan! Why'd you shoot me?!
    Ryan: I was trying to kill you.
  • In one episode of Game Grumps, Danny recounts another memorable moment with his Israeli, ESL father Avi:
    Danny: So dad, should we get pizza or sushi for dinner?
    Avi!Danny: Yes!
    Danny: Okay. Pizzushi it is.

  • When asked what his songs were about, Bob Dylan responded, "Some are about three minutes, some are about four minutes..."
  • Elvis Costello, Brutal Youth, "My Science Fiction Twin":
    "They ask, 'How in the world he does all these things,'/ and he answers, 'Superbly'"
  • Jez Lowe has an example in his song "High Part of the Town":
    They tried to teach geography, but I found it much too hard/When they asked me where does coal come from, I answered "next door's yard"
  • When asked whether she was a singer of country, pop, blues, or jazz, Crystal Gayle replied, "Yes."
  • "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow", a music hall number by Joseph Tabrar. The title is the singer's answer when her teacher asks her why she brings her cat to school.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Nomine: The Seraphim are masters of this, since they are angels of truth who are forbidden to lie. Technically true answers keep them from the edge — if sometimes just barely.

  • In 1776, when John Hancock asks about the absent New Jersey delegates:
    John Hancock: I'm concerned over the continued absence of 1/13th of this Congress. Where is New Jersey?
    John Dickinson: Somewhere between New York and Pennsylvania.
  • In Chicago:
    She'd say, "What's your sister like?" I'd say, "men."
  • In Hamlet: Polonius attempts to get some information on Hamlet to report back to the king, but not wanting to betray his regicidal scheme and not wasting an opportunity to bother his girlfriend's intrusive father, Hamlet gives the most obvious and unhelpful answers he can.
    Polonius: What are you reading?
    Hamlet: Words, words, words.
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, the Major-General wants to find out something about the men in piratical outfits who propose to marry his daughters:
    Major General: May I ask – this is a picturesque uniform, but I'm not familiar with it. What are you?
    Pirate King: We are all... single gentlemen.
    • This is also an ironic inversion of the trope, as the answer uses the ambiguities of language to provide the information he wants (that the pirates are in fact all eligible bachelors in good standing, being actually English gentlemen) while appearing not to.
  • In Iolanthe, when Strephon is required to prove that the title character is really his mother, he points out she gave birth to him and raised him from childhood, and therefore she must be his mother.
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: In one line that's in the musical but not the film, a reporter asks the governor what is behind rising unemployment numbers. The governor replies that the cause of unemployment is that so many people are out of work, then changes the subject.
  • Used multiple times in Twelfth Night.
    • When Malvolio tells Olivia that a man wants to see her and will not be turned away:
    Olivia: What kind of man is he?
    Malvolio: Why, of mankind.
    Olivia: What manner of man?
    Malvolio: Of very ill-manner.
    • Also, when Viola meets Feste:
      Viola: Save thee, friend, and thy music: dost thou live by thy tabour?
      Feste: No, sir, I live by the church.
      Viola: Art thou a churchman?
      Feste: No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.
  • The Taming of the Shrew gives us this exchange concerning Petruchio:
    Babptista: When will he be here?
    Biondello: When he stands where I am and sees you there.
  • Boyet does this to mess with the lovestruck Longaville in Love's Labour's Lost. When Longaville asks for the name of the lady he's infatuated with, Boyet says that he can't have it because she's still using it. Longaville then asks whose daughter she is.
    Boyet: Her mother's, I hear.

  • Dictionaries and encyclopedias tend to do this if you look up the wrong form of the word you're hoping to define.
    Disappropriation: n. The act of disappropriating.
  • Once when somebody asked James Randi how had he pulled off a trick, he answered "Very well, I think".
  • From an old Marvel Comics trading card:
    Spider-Man: So your name is Logan. Is that your first or last name?
    Wolverine: Yup.
    • At the time, Wolverine's real name had yet to be revealed. He sometimes went by "Logan L. Logan", with the "L." being yet another Logan.
  • Zen Buddhism has a koan like this. A monk asked Zhàozhōu, "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?" Zhàozhōu said, "Wú." This is a rare example in which the mathematician's answer is actually the most useful one. Wú essentially means "null" or "not applicable" (or in troper speak, saying that the question is like asking When Is Purple) The point is that the monk asking the question is wrong to assume that the two dichotomous categories have any meaning. Wú is also the sound a dog makes.
  • The Eddie Izzard example so beloved of this page:
    Paris: Dad, found this woman!
    Priam: Whoa, where's she from?
    Paris: She's from Sparta!
    Priam: ...Agh, you twit. Nip upstairs, see if there are any ships on the horizon.
    Paris: Right. [he does] Uhh... Ships. Yeah, yeah, there's ships.
    Priam: Well, how many?
    Paris: *thinking noises* ...All of Them.
  • The proper way to choose a cantaloupe has been described as: smell it, and if it smells like a cantaloupe, it is ripe enough. But it is a cantaloupe, so by definition, whatever it smells like, is what a cantaloupe smells like. Therefore, the only logical answer to "Does it smell like a cantaloupe?" is "Yes".
  • Robin Williams in his stand-up act when talking about calling tech support. When finally reaching a real person (who is Indian), this exchange takes place:
    Caller: (overjoyed) Where are you!?
    Tech support assistant: (heavy Indian accent) I am on the phone with you.
  • Back in about 2003, when Mark & Lard were still doing an afternoon show on BBC Radio 1, they used to run a phone-in quiz vaguely about music. Once, one of the questions was, "Can you name a member of Boyzone?" One of the callers jumped in with, "No." Technically, it was a correct answer...
  • Dara Ó Briain did a bit about this in one of his stand-up shows, when the audience response to the question "Do you know what Moore's Law is?" was 'yes'.
  • There is a story about actress Mae West, who was famous for playing The Vamp.
    Interviewer: Do you like your men short, tall, fat, or thin?
    Mae West: Yes.
  • Then there's the old retort to "Can I ask you a question?" "You just did."
    • If someone is fond of being a smartass with this one, try asking them "May I ask you another question after this one?"
    • During the trial arc of Schlock Mercenary, the company lawyer manages, through convoluted wordplay, to ask if he can ask a question without, in fact, asking a question. Petey, duly impressed with this feat, allows it.
    • Some people ask if they can ask a question by stating 'question'. A smartass (or literalist) will then respond 'answer'.
  • The "A or B? Yes" joke works in most languages because it's rather typical that only one word is used for both meanings of "or". It doesn't work in languages where there are separate words for them, for example Finnish ("tai" / "vai". The former means "or" as in "is it either A or B?" and the latter as in "which one is it: A or B?") In fact, Finnish also has a third word for "or": "eli" meaning specifically "also known as" or "in other words". One wonders if the early Finns just really hated the "or" jokes.
    • It's also difficult in Mandarin, but for a completely different reason: Chinese does not have all-purpose words for "yes" and "no" (although 是 "is" and 不是 "is not" are now used to serve the purpose), instead attaching positive or negative modifiers to the verb in question. If someone asks you even a single-mode question, like "Have you eaten" (吃 饭 了 "chī fàn le?"), you have to say, 还 没 吃 "Méi chī le" (have not eaten) or "chī le" (already ate). ...Okay, people will still throw around 不 "bù" without an attached verb, same as how English speakers will say "Went to the store" with only an implied subject, but it's still a bit harder to be ambiguous.
    • This also applies to Irish. Continuing the example, one would answer the question "Ar ith tú?" (did you eat?) with "D'ith mé" (I ate) or "Níor ith mé" (I did not eat). Though, for practical purposes, the positive and negative modifiers in the continuous present tense of the verb to be ("bí") often serve the role of yes and no ("tá" or "sea" and "níl" or "ní hea" respectively). Pronunciation Note .
    • The Indonesian language makes the standard mathematician's answer to "A or B?" a valid answer: If asked between A or B, saying yes implies agreeing to the latter, since it is said last. Most people will attempt to reconfirm afterwards, but those particularly mean-spirited/in the mood for pranks wouldn't, and will stick to their guns when asked about it.
    • In Japanese, as in English, the word for "yes" (はい "hai") can mean either "Yes." as in "Affirmative" or "Yes?" as in "Go on, I'm listening...". People doing business in Japan are regularly alerted to pay close attention to the context to avoid misunderstandings, since they won't always get a direct "no" to a proposition.
      • Further, most requests made in Japanese are asked in the negative to avoid there ever being a "no" response. A person is more likely to ask by suggesting "You're probably too busy to do this..." in which case a "yes" would be a clear, concise response, and what would be a "no" generally prompts elaboration. That said, replying just with "no" could produce the results of this trope as the speaker hasn't actually agreed to anything...
  • This is the reason some computer languages have the XOR keyword. "OR" evaluates to "true" if at least one of a set of options is true; "XOR" requires that exactly one be true.
    • In formal logic this is generally referred to as having an or (exclusive) and or (inclusive) operator. Most forms of symbolic logic shorthand have both, written longhand the former is usually constructed as "either... or..." and the latter as "... and/or ...". If the phrase is just written "or" the assumption is usually inclusive, though in less formal English obviously it's more context-sensitive.
    • Interestingly enough, this can still lead to a Mathematician's Answer. Q: "Is it black XOR white?" Yes: it's either one or the other. No: it's either both or neither.
    • Nick Hudson, in Modern Australian Usage under "or" reports: the early days of flying between Melbourne and Sydney, passengers were asked "Tea or coffee?" twice. (1) The first time, the correct answer was "Yes" (which got you the cup) or "No." (2) The second time, the answer was "Coffee" or "Tea" (which got the cup filled). (3) If you were then asked whether you wanted to visit the "flight deck or cockpit" the answer was again yes or no, because no other choice was being offered; they were simply two terms for the same part of the aircraft.
  • In most computer languages the truth value of each proposition is evaluated one at time, left to right. As soon as a true result is found the processor jumps to the next instruction in the true branch without testing any of the subsequent terms, a process known as "lazy evaluation". A common programming pattern is to put the computationally cheap evaluations first in the chain. For example, given A or B when A is a cached value and B is a value the CPU will have to fetch over the Internet to determine if it is true or false. Checking A first makes a lot of sense here since if it's true a lot of time can be saved waiting for the check on B.
  • You've probably met the occasional smartass who thought they were funny by using these. "What's for lunch?" "Food."
  • Teachers see a lot of these, from students who can't come up with a relevant answer to a test question and opt to try for a laugh instead. Another common classroom example is "How did you find the exam?" "It was on the desk when I got there."
  • One that gets used a bit in direction-giving customer service roles:
    "Where's the men's room?"
    "Right next to the women's room."
  • Several Burt And I routines took this form.
    • "Why you so head-up, Tom?" "Oh, I had to shoot my dog." "Oh, was he mad?" "Guess he weren't too damn pleased."
    • "I'm going up to Portland." "Go ahead. I won't stop you." "Where does this road go?" "Don't go nowhere, mister. Stays right here." "Can I take this road up to Portland?" "Well, sure...but they've got all the roads up to Portland that they need."
    • "Sorry to hear they're burying your pa." "Got to. He's dead."
  • According to an urban legend, when the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied "Because that's where the money is." He denied ever saying this.
  • The footballer Mario Balotelli crashed his car in August 2010, with ~$8000 in the glove compartment. Asked why, he answered "Because I am rich."
  • René Magritte painting The Treachery of Images, which shows a pipe with the phrase, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," (translation: this is not a pipe) under it. It isn't a pipe; it is an image of a pipe. Later in life, Magritte made it clear that this was a Mathematician's Answer:
    The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!
  • When asked why Mitt Romney failed to win the Presidency in 2012, Chris Christie said that the reason was simple: "He didn't get enough votes."
  • Likewise, P.J. O'Rourke's riposte to Jimmy Carter's stating in a memoir that "We needed a lot more volunteers in 1980!" was "Pal, what you needed was votes."
  • This conversation from Clients from Hell:
    Client: I want to print my logo on a t-shirt
    Me: Will the t-shirt be white or coloured?
    Client: Yes.
    Me: ...Is it white or coloured?
    Client: Oh! White!
    Me: Do you want the print to last long or is it just for an event?
    Client: OK.
  • Many times when a magician is asked how a trick is done, they will answer "Very carefully" or something similar.
  • Parents of small children might find the Mathematician's Answer handy when the kids ask questions about "the birds and the bees" before they are deemed ready to know (or if the parents are just too embarrassed to answer).
    Small Child: Mommy, where did I come from?
    Mom: I already told you, dear. From Kansas City.
    Older Child: Mom, if a man and a woman want to have a baby, what do they need to do?
    Mom: Well, first they need to go out and buy a crib, a high chair, maybe a rattle, etc.
  • When George Pickett was asked why Pickett's Charge (the most famous Confederate attack during The American Civil War) had failed, his answer was simple: "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."note 
  • A letter published in the January 2014 issue of Car and Driver magazine was from a reader asking, "Can anyone tell me what Skyactiv technology actually does?" The editor's response? "Yes."
  • This post collects "38 Test Answers That Are 100% Wrong But Totally Genius At The Same Time."
  • If you ask a true Scotsman what he is wearing under his kilt, he may answer, "Shoes."
  • Hans Asperger, from whom we get Asperger Syndrome, once asked one of his subjects, a little girl who was playing with her toys, whether she could count to ten. She answered "Yes." Then she went back to playing with her toys.
    • This is common in many young children. They either don't recognize the implied expectation for them to perform the task/provide a more detailed explanation or they simply don't feel like complying with it. Another example is a little girl who liked cold weather wasn't wearing a jacket outside. Her teacher asked if she had a jacket, and she answered yes and went back to playing.
    • Autistic and Asperger's people of all ages often use this, due to a combination of being extremely Literal-Minded and taking the "logical" process to its limits. Often they genuinely don't realize that the other person was expecting any other kind of answer.
  • Tom Scott put out a video that goes into detail about Grice's Maxims and The Cooperative Principle (of language). A Mathematician's Answer is usually breaking The Cooperative Principle, usually the Maxim of Quantity by giving too little information.
  • Teachers in technical writing classes will sometimes use this to demonstrate just how hard it is to write with sufficient detail. They'll ask the class to instruct them to perform some mundane task, such as making a PB&J sandwich, and interpret the instructions as literally (and incorrectly) as possible. For example, if someone says simply "put the jelly on the bread", the teacher might place the jar of jelly on top of the bag of bread. This is also common in classes on logic, formal language and programming.
  • A gossip columnist sent a telegram to Cary Grant's studio asking "How Old Cary Grant?" Grant sent a reply telegram saying "Old Cary Grant Fine. How You?"
  • During the 1896 Olympic Games, the Hungarian swimmer Alfréd Hajós won two gold medals. During a dinner honoring the winners, the Crown Prince of Greece asked Hajós where he had learned to swim so well. Hajós answered "In the water".
  • One clever response to an online pickup: a guy asks a girl to send him a picture of her in a bikini. So she gets a photograph of herself, places it in a bunched-up swimsuit, and sends a picture of it all.
  • Retail employees may recognize this;
    Sales Associate: Can I help you?
    Customer: (grinning) Only if you have any free money.
    Sales Associate: [strained smile]
  • At a Battlestar Galactica (2003) conference, someone asked star Jamie Bamber, "How many people would you kill so that you could be on Doctor Who?"
    "None. Because that would be murder. And then I'd go to prison and I wouldn't be able to be on Doctor Who. (Beat). Duh."
  • This can come up in Monster of the Week. The rules for the investigate a mystery move specify that the GM has to answer honestly, within the limitations of the source the hunter is using to investigate. If the monster is something that doesn't appear in the chosen source - a technological abomination or alien being being looked up in a medieval grimoire, for example - the answers are likely to be deeply unhelpful but technically accurate.
  • Many Cakewrecks came to be when the cake decorator misread the instructions this way and simply wrote "HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND THEN IN BLUE BRIAN", "HAPPY VALENTINES DAY OVER A BIG HEART", or "(OLYMPIC RINGS)" on the top of the cake.
  • In French, one of the way of asking "what time is it?" is literally translated by "do you know what time is it?". Sometimes there's a smartass who answers "yes'.
  • The subreddit /r/InclusiveOr lists many examples.
  • The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is an online company that offers bots which are designed to waste the time of telemarketers by using pre-written routines and otherwise responding with stuff like "Sure," "Mm-hmm," and "right." As such, any direct question, such as "Can you give me your credit card number?" (bank account number, etc.) will generally be answered in such a way, driving the telemarketers nuts, as the bots will say essentially that they yes, they can give the number, but they never do.
  • Any time a heel in Professional Wrestling claims they won a match fair and square completely by themselves when they obviously took advantage of interference from a friend or from their face opponent's enemy to weaken the opponent for either their Finishing Move or directly for the pin cover. After all, the 3-count pin itself was entirely done by the heel in the match themselves, right?
  • When conducting a job interview, it's generally considered bad practice to ask questions that lend themselves to a simple yes/no answer, because such questions don't really do much to evaluate the candidate. So instead of asking "Have you ever done X?", a better question would be "Tell me about a time when you did X."
  • According to a possibly apocryphal anecdote, during an official presidental trip Charles de Gaulle had a brainfart and passed a paper to French Minister of Foreign Affairs Maurice Couve de Murville asking "Couve, do you know the name of the Colombian Prime Minister?" Couve de Murville answered "Yes." De Gaulle gave him back the paper, adding "Yes who?", to which Couve de Murville answered "Yes, Sir!"
  • When Bruce Campbell was asked if he had been cast in his old colleague Sam Raimi's sequel to Doctor Strange, he simply replied 'Linoleum'.

It's a third person singular neuter pronoun, but that's not important right now.


Video Example(s):


Torgue's bolo tie story

In the Campaign of Carnage DLC, Mr. Torgue talks about suplexing a shark wearing a bolo tie...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MathematiciansAnswer

Media sources: