I heard it in the TV Series Fargo, Episode 9. Here is the transcript:

A: We still on for golf next week?
B: Course we are, Burty Burt.
A: But more importantly, are you and Louise still gonna make it on Sunday?
B: Do dogs smell each other's butts?
A: I think I might have observed that type of behavior on occasion.

Also in Prison Break, Season 1 episode 11:

A: You still interested in getting in on PI?
B: Does my momma got big breastices?
A: I wouldn't know.
B: Hell, yeah, she does. And hell, yeah, I do.

What is the name of this construction?


2 Answers 2


It's a called rhetorical affirmation.

The respondent answers by asking a rhetorical question.

The answer that is implied by the rhetorical question is the answer to the the original question.

In the Prison Break quote, the rhetorical question isn't sufficiently well known for the original questioner to determine if the respondent means yes or no, which is why they reply to the rhetorical question of Does my momma got big breastices? with I wouldn't know which then causes the respondent to supply the answer to both their own 'rhetorical' question and the original question.

  • 6
    The most common rhetorical affirmation question (at least that I've heard) is either “Is the pope Catholic?” or “Can fish swim?”. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:10
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    Also "do bears crap in the woods?" That and the pope one are so common in the UK that one sometimes hears them mixed up for comic effect, with eg "does the pope crap in the woods?" meaning exactly the same as "is the pope catholic?", even though he doesn't (presumably).
    – Rupe
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 10:55
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    Or from Kevin Bacon's The Air Up There: "Do zebras have stripes?" Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:23
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    @BlueWhale For comedic effect as often as not, or to point out that the question's answer was obvious - as obvious as this rhetorical question. Also, with regards to "Is the pope Catholic", I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that that one is less popular in the U.S.
    – Doc
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:41
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    @BlueWhale: Often, the asker of the original question already knows the answer, and the asking is just a formality. More often, the answerer thinks the answer is so obvious that the asker should have known. So they pick a question with an equally "obvious" answer to highlight.
    – cHao
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:41

While I concede to Frank the phrase "rhetorical affirmation," I must add that according to some, the linguistic source of rhetorical affirmation comes from the influence of Yiddish.

Leo Rosten, in his great book, "The Joys of Yiddish," writes of the rhetorical affirmation in the preface of the book, although he doesn't give it a name. There Rosten lists nine classic Yiddish linguistic devices that have invaded the English language, the last of which is answering a question with a question. The first eight are worthy of note and include:

  1. Blithe dismissal via repetition with an sh ("Fat-shmat, as long as she's happy");
  2. Mordant syntax ("smart, he isn't);
  3. Sarcasm via innocuous diction ("he only tried to shoot himself");
  4. Scorn through reversed word order ("already you're discouraged?");
  5. Contempt via affirmationa: ("My son-in-law he wants to be");
  6. Fearful curses sanctioned by nominal cancellation ("a fire should burn in his heart, God forbid!");
  7. Politeness expedited by truncated verbs and eliminated prepositions ("You want a cup coffee?");
  8. Derisive dismissal disguised as innocent interrogation ("I should pay him for such devoted service?") and to the point here,
  9. The use of a question to answer a question to which the answer is so self-evident that the use of the first question (by you) constitutes an affront (to me) best erased either by (a) repeating of the original question or (b) retorting with a question of comparably asinine self-answeringness.

[Examples omitted.] Source: Rosten, Leo, "The Joys of Yiddish" (McGraw Hill 1968), pp xiv - xv.

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