Does English have a name for questions with counterintuitive answers?

For example:

"How do you do?" -> not "I am fine."

  • 1
    I don't think "How do you do?" is a question. It's a way to greet someone. You don't respond to it with "I am fine". You respond to it with "How do you do" or "Hello". You respond with "I am fine" to "How are you doing?" Jul 16, 2014 at 21:17
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    "How are you./?" is ambiguous: pragmatic device or semantically meaningful. "How are you." and "I'm fine, thank you" are equally valid responses. "Howdy!" is 100% pragmatic, a formulaic greeting. "How do you do ./?" is 95%+ pragmatic. Can you suggest any other of these pseudo-questions (not including polite requests)? Jul 16, 2014 at 21:24
  • At the very least, you could respond to "How do you do?" with "How do I do what?" :) Jul 16, 2014 at 21:35
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    Yes, "how do you do?" is a greeting, but it's a myth (or at best an anachronism) that it's some kind of faux pas to answer it as if it's a question. What's important is that you reciprocate eg "I'm good, how are you?".
    – Rupe
    Jul 16, 2014 at 23:23
  • You would need to supply more examples. "How do you do" is but one question, a single peculiarity. It's not clear what other questions you have in mind, or whether there are other questions at all. It's not clear why you assume English would have a specific name for just this one question, and it is not clear how you expect that name to help you with anything. It'd be a meaningless label.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 18, 2014 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


I would call these examples of "Idioms"; English is a language built on arcane phrases such as these which have hidden or implied meanings which are more or less derived from their continued use in a given context.

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