Imagine the following online dialog.

Question: What is a hyperlink?

Answer: Click on the following, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperlink, or type it into your web browser.

(Thanks to @RegDwigнt♦ for suggesting I use a definition from somewhere other than Google.)

The answer provides an example of a hyperlink that shows the answer to the question of what a hyperlink is.

Is there a specific name for this rhetorical device, where one is shown how to find an answer through an example of the answer?

My Thoughts

My first thought for the right word was meta. From wiktionary ...


(informal) Self-referential; structured analogously, but at a higher level.

Suppose you have a genie that grants you three wishes. If you wish for infinite wishes, that is a meta wish.

... but I wonder if there is a more specific rhetorical device that would describe the situation.

Thanks. I'm excited to be part of this site.

Edit: I was originally motivated to ask this question because of a programming example on another forum. @RobbieGoodwin suggested that the question be limited to English language, so I am including a link to a screenshot of that programming example and my explanation. The question is not about programming, it's about a strategy used for answering a question. (As a new user, I appreciate the suggestion.)

  • 1
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:39
  • 1
    Well, it would be an indirect answer...
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:44
  • 1
    Oops. Good point. By the way, I liked your indirect answer. The cleverness was duly noted. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:46
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    A 'meta-definition'? (Are they always enthymematic?)
    – AmI
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 1:16
  • 1
    I see your point -- the answer would be a 'meta-explanation'.
    – AmI
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 23:28

2 Answers 2


This is an example of the principle of Show, Don't Tell: using demonstrative techniques, rather than blatant or thinly-veiled narration, to establish narrative elements.

The definition above comes from creative writing, but we use it at lot in scientific and technical teaching, too.


There were two answers given as comments which I consider the best. Since the users haven't posted what they wrote as answers, I will note them here and credit the users.

Answer 1: "Indirect Answer"

@Jim gave a sort-of example of the situation I was describing by posting the following link. Note that I say, "sort-of answer," because the link itself isn't indirect, i.e. the link itself isn't an instance of an indirect answer.


There, one may read,

The mechanisms through which an indirect response to a question counts as a direct answer to that question can fruitfully be regarded as a process in which the listener supplies, constructs, infers, or is reminded of such statements as will (together with the indirect response itself) allow the inference of a plausible direct answer.

The abstract to which the link refers adds an idea that is crucial to the situation I described, specifically,

[P]articipants [in a conversation] expect each other to cooperate in making utterances “make sense.”

@Jim really understood the question, because he answered indirectly that my situation was an indirect answer. Clever.

Answer 2: "Meta-Explanation"

@AmI gave the great answer above, i.e. that the appropriate rhetorical device is a meta-explanation. In addition, @AmI used the appropriate and fancy term, enthymematic, which is interesting as regards this question. Here's the definition, which actually redirects to enthymeme:

noun Logic.
a syllogism or other argument in which a premise or the conclusion is unexpressed.

While I think meta-explanation would be a more-specific name than indirect answer for a rhetorical device such as I explained, I couldn't find any web examples of the former, while I could find them for the latter.

I'm interested to hear what you users of EL&U think. Do you find one of these answers more appropriate for the situation described?

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