(if you can think of a better title please change it, I know it's bad)

Is there a name for an answer to a question that does nothing but rephrase the question in an answer form? For example, if you were asked something that you didn't know the answer to and were trying to be funny / intentionally not helpful.


Q: What is a dog house?
A: It's a house for dogs.
Q: What is the typeDefinitionAccessCode variable used for?
A: It's used to store the access code of the type definition.

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    I would call it "an answer to a question that does nothing but rephrase the question in an answer form". – Mark Beadles Mar 21 '12 at 1:50
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    @MarkBeadles Delightfully witty of you, sir! – tchrist Mar 21 '12 at 2:23
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    You sir are a delightful character – SCdF Mar 21 '12 at 2:27
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    @MarkBeadles: You beat me to it! – Keith Thompson Mar 21 '12 at 7:11

I think you might be looking for tautology:

[Tautology] is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. Typically the premise is simply restated in the conclusion, without adding additional information or clarification.

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Begging the questionAn excerpt from this link:

"Begging the question is also known as circular argument, tautology, and petitio principii."

"Here is an example [of begging the question] taken from an article on exclusive men's clubs in San Francisco. In explaining why these clubs have such long waiting lists, Paul B. 'Red' Fay, Jr. (on the roster of three of the clubs) said, 'The reason there's such a big demand is because everyone wants to get in them.' In other words, there is a big demand because there is a big demand."

(H. Kahane and N. Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life, 10th ed. Wadsworth, 2006)

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    I think begging the question is a slightly different form of circular reasoning than a tautology. A tautology is literally restating the premise in different words; begging the question is used when trying to prove something that may or may not be true by assuming it is true. Saying "club X is in demand because lots of people want to get in." would be a tautology if it was accepted as true that club X was popular, and begging the question if club X's popularity were up for debate. (In particular, tautologies are logically valid, begging the question is a fallacy.) – KutuluMike Mar 21 '12 at 2:39

I would call it circular inquiry.

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  • I've heard of circular logic or circular reasoning but not a circular inquiry. Could you cite a source, or provide an example sentence? – Ellie Kesselman Mar 26 '12 at 19:02

I would call it an instance of a "useless" reply. The restatement that you mention is just a special case - the most obvious case - of uselessness. Other useless answers - sometimes offered as jokes or witticisms - take a microsecond longer or so before their uselessness is perceived, and so have some significant impact (i.e., the double-take factor applies). For example:

A. "What is the secret to getting rich in the stock market?"

B. "Buy low; sell high".

Or again, Mark Twain's "I was gratified to be able to answer immediately: I said I didn't know."

Or again, Al Capone's answer to the prosecutor: "To the best of my recollection, I can't remember."

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I'd call it shallow as in a shallow answer.

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  • But sometimes it's all the answer that is needed. – Jim Mar 21 '12 at 2:29
  • You are right, fact that turns my answer into basically, crap. – Eduardo Mar 21 '12 at 3:03

I might call it a smart answer, especially if it seems designed to be sarcastically funny or unhelpful.

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I would call it a "meta answer." I learned the usage of the word, 'meta' meaning self-referencing from the answers to my question, "What does 'It's sorta meta' mean?" that I posted in this forum a half year ago.

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