Rhetorical Questions

In my ongoing and disjointed attempt to help other people understand Asperger’s Syndrome, I have decided to discuss the problems I have with rhetorical questions.

Via UsingEnglish.com: A rhetorical question is one that requires no answer because the answer is obvious and doesn’t need to be stated . The speaker (of the rhetorical question) is not looking for an answer but is making some kind of a point, as in an argument.

Now, I also have some difficulty with certain types of sarcastic statements, but that’s largely because I’m not only somewhat gullible, but I have actually experienced a wide range of really bizarre happenings, and have learned not to be too surprised when something truly backwards occurs.

From a purely definitive standpoint, I understand the meaning of rhetorical question as well as the next person, but in terms of being able to understand the application of them, I have found my skills to be somewhat lacking.  Apparently I’m going through a new social understanding growth spurt, because as of late, I’ve started picking up on when things are rhetorical questions after I have blundered and tried to answer them.

And since now that I understand what a R.Q. (Rhetorical Question) is like in a variety of different situations, I’ve started being able to keep quiet – sometimes, anyways.  I’m doing better in classroom settings anyways.

  1. First of all, teachers are more likely to ask R.Q.’s at the beginning of a class, rather than midway through or at the end.
  2. It’s important to watch for whether the teacher is asking the entire class or specifically looking for volunteers.  This one is a bit harder to discern, but generally speaking, if she/he pauses afterwards and continues to look around at everyone–especially if accompanied by an increasingly annoyed look–then it’s actually a question that she/he wants answered.
  3. As for personal interactions, watch out for complaints that are voiced in the form of a question.  Ex.  “Geez!  Why is it so cold outside??? That doesn’t require an actual answer, but rather is merely a complaint about the temperature.  So my answer, “Because there aren’t any clouds to hold the heat in,” is not the right kind of thing to reply back with.   Instead, people prefer you to either agree with them, or disagree by saying something like, “I don’t know; I rather like this temperature!” They don’t actually want to know the answer to their question.

~ by lastcrazyhorn on October 18, 2009.

13 Responses to “Rhetorical Questions”

  1. This is fascinationg! As a non-Aspie, I would be very interested to learn more about wha it is about rhetorical questions that is difficult to understand. 🙂

  2. The problem is in discerning the difference between when a rhetorical question is asked vs. when someone actually wants an answer.

  3. I hadn’t thought about this. But knowing my three kids who have assorted spectrum issues, I can absolutely see that they don’t get this. Bravo to you for coming up with your own method for RQ detection. 🙂

  4. Your way of picking up rhetorical questions is something like staircase wit.

  5. Staircase wit?

  6. Staircase wit : the habit of thinking of a clever comaback or snappy answer when one is leaving the scene of the encounter, likely when one is on the stairs leading out.

  7. Thanks so much for writing this. As a NT, I’m sometimes completely oblivious how my rhetorical style could cause problems for others. I will try to avoid these types of questions, especially when I’m talking with kids on the spectrum.

  8. ?

  9. Rhetorical questions are tough because of the assumption of what is “obvious.” I’ve been known to answer rhetorical questions and not answer non-rhetorical questions. My assumptions about what’s obvious are obviously different.

    I also tend to ask questions that people treat as rhetorical. Which I find mildly annoying, especially when they walk away. “But, I actually want an answer…”

    I tend to be better with sarcasm, though. My kids haven’t quite caught on. Willy especially struggles with it. To him sarcasm is a lie.

    • Yes! That’s the problem exactly. And people treat many of my questions as rhetorical as well!

      I’m okay with sarcasm as long as it doesn’t directly pertain to myself. If someone makes a comment relating to me that is sarcastic, I can’t always tell if they are serious or not. Like I said, it doesn’t help that I’ve experienced such a wide range of actions against my person from seemingly “nice” people; it makes it hard to tell after a while.

  10. I’ve no other way to get in touch with you, so I guess this is it.

    Tried emailing and received no response, so I will assume that you’ve no desire to speak with me.

    All I can say is goodbye then, and I hope your life goes well.

  11. Hey, I found you, and it was remarkably easy! Enjoyed meeting you this morning. Let’s be friends, maybe!


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