I’ve always been annoyed by rhetorical questions. They’re usually demeaning, condescending, or thrown out in a scolding manner. I avoid using them and so was surprised when I found myself in the middle of a rhetorical slugfest.
What happened was I was shopping in Target and there was a guy next to me with a baby in a stroller. The kid was crying; not a deafening piercing scream but a strong enough wail to warrant him being taken outside where other shoppers wouldn’t be disturbed. But that’s not what this guy did. No; he leaned over and commanded, “Stop that crying right now!” Being that the baby was maybe one, this direction went unheeded. “I said ‘Stop that crying'”, he repeated with considerably more force and authority. At this point, I was already questioning his parenting skills, but kept my big yap shut. It was his next instruction that put me over the edge.
“How many times have I told you?” For me – the perfect storm! An idiot parent and a rhetorical question all rolled up into one unavoidable collision. This knucklehead had bully written all over him. And not just bully, but the worst kind – a baby bully! Maybe I should have stayed out of it but somebody has to stand up for the babies.
“I counted two”, I offered.
He gawked at me with this gaping perplexed expression. I continued, “Two. I counted two times that you told him to stop crying. I don’t know how many times he counted but did you really expect him to answer?” (My own rhetorical question.) You do know babies can’t talk, don’t you?”
“Why don’t you mind your own business?” he growled.
“You’ve heard of the Baby Advocates Society?” (Another rhetorical question; I didn’t expect an answer. I was now reaching the apex of my snarkiness and enjoyment of badgering this guy.)
His disdain for me became quite obvious when he exclaimed, “Why don’t you go f___ yourself?” as he spun away and headed for the exit.
“You do know that’s biologically impossible, don’t you?” (My parting rhetoric since it was assumed no answer would be forthcoming.) And so I felt comfortable that in the arena of rhetorical jousting, I had the last word. Therefore I won. (Didn’t I?)
But this little vignette merely opens the door to a dialogue centered around the problem of how to manage the rhetorical question when it comes your way. You may parlay it with a rhetorical rebuttal of your own. For example, “When will you get it through that thick head of yours?” can be countered with “When will pigs start flying?” or “You don’t like my cooking?’ with “Is that what you call it?”
If you’re not quick-witted enough to parry a stupid question with a stupider one, then perhaps the only recourse is to answer with a remark so absurd that you entertain yourself. “What’s wrong with you?” neutralized by “I’m a product of my DNA”. This is particularly effective when you’re being reprimanded by your parents who, by law, bear responsibility for your DNA. ( and your IQ if you really want to turn the screws into them.)
“What’s this world coming to?” was one of my favs. Today, I’d suggest that it’s all just a passing fancy. Once the Trump-Pelosi sideshow leaves town, we can all go back to the sanity of Barnum and Bailey.
Often the same rhetorical query is proposed in different dialogues: “Are you crazy?’; “Are you out of your mind?”; and “What’s wrong with you?” can all be answered with “Do you have any flavored seltzer?”
If you’re reading this blog and have some favorite rhetorical questions of your own, please share them with a comment at the end of this post.