Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Ask A Rhetorical Question?

We imagine most people have asked a rhetorical question at some point in their life. A rhetorical question, in fact, has little, if anything, to do with rhetoric. Following the media shit-storm that was the US election, we're glad it's all over.

A rhetorical question is merely a statement posed in the form of a question. It's often wrongly referenced as a question with no answer when it is in fact a question that does not require an answer. Of course, the question has an answer... it's just unwanted or irrelevant. Who knew?

"What's the meaning of life?" is a question
with no answer, but it isn't rhetorical!

Leaving excuses to throw in as many rhetorical questions as possible aside, why do we ask them? Rhetorical questions are perhaps the most British way to make a statement. Avoiding exactly what you're trying to say is a staple of the Northern-European-Island-Dwellers and they sure love it! Simply put, to utilise the non-direct nature of a question without making an intended, and possibly offensive, statement.

There are negative rhetorical questions, such as: "Can't you do anything right?" which infers that they can't do anything right, but it's not as strong as saying "You don't do anything right!". Given that they work exceptionally with irony and sarcasm, why wouldn't they be great for the Brits?

"Who the bloody hell do you think
you're talking to?"

When writing rhetorical questions, should you punctuate? The general consensus is that even though it's not a traditional question, you should always include the question mark "?" as you would with any other question. That said, there is in fact a lesser known punctuation mark know as the percontation point (or the rhetorical question mark for those of us who can't be bothered to learn the word "percontation") and was proposed as early as the 1580s. Though, as with other uncommon types of punctuation, it's probably not worth using since nobody is familiar with it.

Percontation mark?

So why ask a rhetorical question? We'll leave that up to you. It's your language. We'd advise that if you want to be clear about something, then avoid them. However, if you like having a bit of fun with your language, give them a go! Why not?