10

(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.

Examples:

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.

5
  • 19
    I would call it "an answer to a question that does nothing but rephrase the question in an answer form". Mar 21, 2012 at 1:50
  • 3
    @MarkBeadles Delightfully witty of you, sir!
    – tchrist
    Mar 21, 2012 at 2:23
  • 1
    You sir are a delightful character
    – SCdF
    Mar 21, 2012 at 2:27
  • 1
    @MarkBeadles: You beat me to it! Mar 21, 2012 at 7:11
  • It is not obvious that the examples given really 'rephrase the question'. There is no question left when one is told 'It's a house for dogs'; it is a perfectly good answer. The answer is not only accurate, but also informative: it tells us that dog house is not a metaphor, or a peculiar idiom, or a technical term. A learner of English who had just been struggling with the meaning of hot dog, would find that answer very helpful.
    – jsw29
    Jan 13 at 20:34

7 Answers 7

27

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.

This citation is from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

4
  • 9
    There's a club for that
    – yoozer8
    Mar 21, 2012 at 1:40
  • 1
    @Jim: Excellent trouvaille! Mar 21, 2012 at 2:12
  • Who is being quoted here? This doesn't match definitions of "tautology" I've seen, though it does contain an actual tautology: "adding additional" ("adding" would have been sufficient - it's already clear the information is additional if it's being added).
    – spume
    Jan 8 at 10:50
  • @spume I updated the link and added attribution. Wikipedia has some examples of tautology (language) that illustrate my conclusion that this is a good word for OP's situation. It boils down to "A dog house is a house for a dog", which is similar to "After we change the game it won't remain the same."
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 12 at 21:30
5

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)

1
  • 1
    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, 2012 at 2:39
2

I would call it circular inquiry.

1
  • I've heard of circular logic or circular reasoning but not a circular inquiry. Could you cite a source, or provide an example sentence? Mar 26, 2012 at 19:02
2

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."

1

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

2
  • But sometimes it's all the answer that is needed.
    – Jim
    Mar 21, 2012 at 2:29
  • You are right, fact that turns my answer into basically, crap.
    – drakorg
    Mar 21, 2012 at 3:03
1

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

0

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.