[Ads-l] Rhetoric: Have you given up beating your father?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Oct 25 23:39:47 UTC 2015

> On Oct 25, 2015, at 6:02 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> Off list Barry Popik told me (and others) about a new entry on his
> website about a classic trick/comical question:
> "Have you stopped beating your wife?" (loaded question)
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__barrypopik.com_index.php_new-5Fyork-5Fcity_entry_have-5Fyou-5Fstopped-5Fbeating-5Fyour-5Fwife-5Floaded-5Fquestion_&d=AwIBaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=aJvt3JLZlqZEdz9svHaGoM4D8DGTzLbmrFVYT-TA6ac&s=lYzNPD9DmOc03KfRf_VfY7Rj_4Yu1SYLK-eSxm4Rrbk&e= 
> Barry's excellent first citation is dated February 4, 1894. I
> performed a quick search for close variants and found "Have you given
> up beating your father?" in a textbook in 1880. I only looked in
> Google Books and performed one lucky query, so further progress is
> likely.
> Year: 1880
> Title: The Elements of Deductive Logic: Designed Mainly for the Use of
> Junior Students in the Universities
> Author: Thomas Fowler
> Quote Page 152
> Publisher: Macmillan and Company, London
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__books.google.com_books-3Fid-3DNSYCAAAAQAAJ-26q-3Dbeating-23v-3Dsnippet-26&d=AwIBaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=aJvt3JLZlqZEdz9svHaGoM4D8DGTzLbmrFVYT-TA6ac&s=69r2EexvFWXPAuNQe02czvlKXt6TxL3eFBwvDKJM1Hg&e= 
> [Begin excerpt]
> The so called 'Fallacia plurium interrogationum' has not been noticed
> in the text, because it is a rhetorical artifice, rather than a
> logical fallacy. It consists in covertly putting as a single question
> what is in reality two, as for instance, 'Are gall and honey sweet?'
> 'Have you cast your horns?' (known as 'cornutus'). 'What did you take,
> when you broke into my house last night?' 'Have you given up beating
> your father?' The object is to entrap the respondent into an admission
> which he would otherwise not be likely to make.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson

25 years ago I wrote in a paper on review article that "the relation in question can be detected as well in the presupposition-dependent sophisma of choice for the medievals, "Do you still beat you ass?", which may in tum be seen as a lineal descendant of the Megarians' (3rd century B.C.) favoured query, "Have you stopped beating your father? Answer
yes or no" (cf. Wheeler, 1983: 290-1). The shift in the locus classicus of the unfair question from the father-beating of the ancients through the ass-beating of the medievals to the wife-beating of the moderns provides an eloquent commentary on twenty-three centuries of social progress."

A recent instance of this was an pop-up I received from something called newsmax.com that requested me to respond to the poll question DO YOU STILL SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP?   Hmmm...hard to say.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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