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File:Rhetorical-question-backfire 2140.jpg

Captain America: Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away, what are you?

Iron Man: A genius billionaire playboy philanthropist?

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 Does Not Understand Sarcasm. Related to Analogy Backfire.

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.

Examples of Rhetorical Question Blunder include:


  • 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?

Kuchiki Byakuya: Cheap.

Zaraki Kenpachi: Nuisance.

Kyoraku Shunsui: Fashionable?

Yamamoto: Shut up, you morons.


 Namor: When were you going to tell me about this?

Iron Man: It just happened yesterday.

Namor: I thought we agreed to keep each other informed of major superhuman developments.

Iron Man: Does anyone know how to say "It just happened yesterday" in Atlantean?

Reed Richards: Fortanu Vasyama.

Everyone in the room stares at Richards.

Reed Richards: Sorry. I thought he was actually asking.

Film -- Animated

  • Pocahontas has one between Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins. For bonus points, Ratcliffe ends his monologue with another rhetorical question.

 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?

  • 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.
  • In Disney's The Little Mermaid:

 Scuttle: Have I ever been wrong? (Pause) I mean when it's important!

 Hopper: Are you saying that I'm stupid?

Princess Atta: (bursts out laughing) Yes!

Film -- Live Action

  • 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!"

 Evil: That's a good question. Why have I let the Supreme Being keep me here in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness?

Robert: Because you - (he explodes)

Evil: Shut up, I'm speaking rhetorically.

  • Serenity has one such example, where in the midst of an argument between the crew, Mal barks a question at Jayne, who promptly answers, much to throw Mal off of his speechifying track.

 Mal: Do you want to run this ship!?

Jayne: Yes.

Mal: ...Well you can't.

 Holly: I have a request.

Hans Gruber: What idiot put you in charge?

Holly: You did. When you murdered my boss. Now everybody's looking to me.

  • Errol from Snatch has this problem, with his boss Brick Top just wanting him to be Dumb Muscle. "It was a rhetorical question, Errol. What have I told you about thinking?"
  • A rather tragic example from Forrest Gump, when Bubba is dying in Gump's arms.

 Bubba: Forrest...why'd this happen?

Forrest: You got shot.

 Steve: Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away, what are you?

Tony: Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.


 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.

    • Moving Pictures also has the same The Merchant of Venice gag as Neverwhere (below), with the troll who asked the question still insisting "Ah, but I would if I had blood. I'd bleed all over the place."
    • 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?"
  • 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.

Live Action TV

 Blackadder: I mean, look at this. What is it?

Baldrick: I'm surprised you've forgotten, my lord.

Blackadder: I haven't forgotten. It's a rhetorical question.

Baldrick: No, it's a potato.

  • This happens in The Big Bang Theory when Raj, Howard, and Sheldon go look up an entomologist to settle a bet:

 Professor Crawley: Let me ask you a question. What does an accomplished entomologist with a doctorate and twenty years of experience do when the university cuts all his funding?

Raj: Ask uncomfortable rhetorical questions to people?

    • Sheldon often answers rhetorical questions.

 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."
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Barney's brother shows the gang pictures of his son.

 James: Isn't that adorable? When was the last time you saw a diaper poking out from a Dolce and Gabbana suit?

Marshall: Tuesday, At work... some of the senior partners are really getting up there.

    • Also Barney once, when he was angsting about finding his father.

 Barney (to the girl he's about to climb in bed with) Who's your daddy?

Girl: (flirtatiously) I don't know... who's your daddy?

Barney: (bursts into tears) I don't know!

 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.

    • 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?

  • 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. [1]

 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 analysing Whos 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?


 Charles: Will they stop at nothing?!

Carol I don't know, do you think they will?

Charles: I meant that rhetorically.

Carol What does rhetorically mean?

Charles: It means I didn't expect an answer.

 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"[2] (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.


  • Bowling for Soup's song "No Hablo Ingles", in a verse containing a series of questions:

 Do you like my band?

...Don't answer that.

 Are you out of love with me?

Are you longing to be free?

Do I drive you up a tree?

(Yeah! Oh, yeah!)

Do I drive you up the wall?

Do you dread every phone call?

Can you not stand me at all?

(Yeah! Oh, yeah!)

Newspaper Comics

  • Garfield says this to a mirror in the January 15, 1985 strip when he asks it who the cutest cat of all is and Nermal walked up soon after.


  • 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."

Video Games

  • 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.
  • Done hilariously in Army Men: Sarge's Heroes

 Tan Soldier: Colonel Grimm and the Sarge have escaped our forces and captured a blue intelligence officer make matters worse, Sarge found one of our portals.

General Plastro: WHAT?

Tan Soldier: Colonel Grimm and Sarge have escaped -

General Plastro: I HEARD YOU! IT WAS A RHETORICAL 'WHAT'! (punches the soldier out of the building) Does anyone else have any good news they'd like to share?

Tan Soldiers: No sir! Nope! Not me! Nothin'!

 Wrex: So tell me, who would win in a fight between you and Shepard?

Tali: Do krogan always size up one another for a fight? Even friends and allies?

Wrex: Yes.

 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.

Web Comics

 Beatriz Juruna: What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Vergil Haas: ...Well, he profits by one entire world, for starters.

 Percy: Is there anything in the world more miserable than a wet cat?

Pooch: Ummmm... A frozen penguin? ... A shaved porcupine? Constipated skunk? ... A toothless beaver!

 Nogg: Does failing so many times mean I should give up, or that it's more noble that I keep getting up to get knocked down again? ... That's rhetorical.

Krep: Do you hear me replying?

Western Animation

 Mr. Butlertron: What would the real Joan of Arc have done?

Joan: She would have listened to her heart. And then she would've gotten burned at the stake. [nervous laugh] But what are the odds of that happening again?

Mr. Butlertron: 38%.

 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. [claps with one hand]

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! [claps with one hand]

    • And also heavily lampshaded it in "Mother Simpson":

 Mona Simpson [sings]: How many roads must a man walk down / Before you can call him a man?

Homer: Seven.

Lisa: No, dad, it's a rhetorical question.

Homer: OK, eight.

Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?

Homer: Do I know what "rhetorical" means?

 Patrick: When did the fun go away, Spongebob?

Spongebob: Right after you went over that cliff.

  • Used in Total Drama World Tour, when Chris was trying to tell the contestants that one of them would have to ride in the baby carriage as part of their challenge.

 Chris: And what's a baby carriage without a baby?


Chris: It was a rhetorical question!

 Bender: If that stuff wasn't real, how can I be sure anything is real? Is it not possible, nay, probable, that my entire life is just a figment of my or someone else's imagination?

Technician: No. Get out.

    • 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?

Debby: YES!

    • The bit is echoed later in the same episode with Captain Murphy and Dr. Quinn.
  • Has happened to Eddy a couple times on Ed, Edd n Eddy.

 Eddy: Do I look like twenty bucks or what?

Edd: "Or what?" is a good question...

Eddy: I was born to fleece, Double D! Do you know who I think I am?

Edd: Unfortunately, yes.

Eddy: What could be more important than Master Eddy?

Ed: COOKIE DOUGH!! Yum-yum-yum-yum-yum-yum-yum-yum!

    • Maybe he's learning his lesson; in Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy's Big Picture Show, Eddy, having gotten stranded in the middle of the desert with his friends, says to Double D, "Have I ever steered you wrong? Don't answer that."
  • From the first episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic:

 Nightmare Moon: 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!

  • In one episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris says something to the effect of "Do I look like the kind of guy who'd lie to you? Don't answer that."
    • Also

 Boris: What did I ever do to deserve this?

Natasha: Well...

Boris: Don't answer that.

 Fred: Have I ever given you a bum steer?

Barney: Well I...

Fred [covering Barney's mouth]: Don't answer that!

  • Daffy Duck while flattering a cop in the Looney Tunes short "Hollywood Daffy": "What's Errol Flynn got that you ain't got? [to audience] Don't answer that!"
  • Kim Possible:

 [during the Christmas Episode]

Ron: What? I'm supposed to let you take over the world?

Drakken: In the spirit of the season, yes!

  • From the Chowder episode "Schnitzel Makes a Deposit":

 Old Lady: Would you care for a free lollipop?

Chowder: Would I?!

Old Lady: Would you?

Chowder: Would I?!

Old Lady: Would you?

 Jimmy: Would you have a good date with a sandwich?

Beezy: *begins drooling*

Jimmy: Don't answer that.

  • Phineas and Ferb: "You wanna live forever?" "Was that an option?"
  • 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 told you not to bring back the dead?!

Johnny: Um, never?

Hugh: Well, we shouldn't have to!


  1. She actually knows double. Not only did it happen to the character, but the actress had the same thing happen as well.
  2. O'Neill's words
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