When a rhetorical question isn’t a rhetorical question

We’ve probably all heard someone, upon lifting a heavy bag or box, exclaim, “What in the world do you have in here, a bunch of rocks?!” Humor being one of the many purposes of rhetoric, what the person is really doing is remarking upon the heft of whatever they’re lifting, with the nuance of pointing out that he or she didn’t expect it to be as heavy as it is.

With some people, especially children, the use of rhetorical devices can at times cause confusion or an opportunity for explanation, whereas sometimes the figurative morphs into the literal due to one’s lack of understanding an expression’s idiomatic undertone. For example, you might ask a kid for her two cents and be handed a couple of pennies. Or, in a real-life story eight years ago that ended with a trip to the ER, your three year-old son might delightedly say he’s about to jump in the shower.

Last summer, when readying the backpacks for a week of day camp, I picked up Arlo’s to make sure that he’d unloaded all of his school stuff from Kindergarten, only to find the bag surprisingly still quite weighty. I thought, “What in the world do you have in there?” and when I looked inside, well, you guessed it…

The contents of Arlo’s backpack, summer 2021.

…a bunch of rocks, among other things. Of course I removed them to this box for safekeeping before dumping out probably six ounces of dirt and sand. This just goes to show that sometimes when you ask a child a rhetorical question, it’s always safe to assume that there might be an actual answer.

P.S. When I opened the Play-Doh container, its contents were completely ossified, which is to say that the Play-Doh was as hard as a…oh, you know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s