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A “question” is a speech-act, an utterance whose meaning and function is to elicit a response from the listener or reader. “Rhetoric” is the discipline of persuasion by means of language. When a rhetorical strategy (a series of arguments, supporting data, logic, and the like) includes a rhetorical question, the speaker is not performing the speech-act of asking for information, but instead is evoking from the listener an admission of a self-evident fact. Example: “You don’t want the state to make it legal to kill babies, do you?” Although phrased in a question form, the rhetorical question is really making the listener (who is defending legal abortion) admit that abortion is killing babies. Another example: “Are you trying to tell me that the icebergs are melting because I bought an SUV?” Here the speaker is claiming that the opponent is making a direct link between global climate change and his personal buying habits. The question is not meant to be answered—it serves a rhetorical purpose, exposing the arguer’s false logic. In casual conversation, rhetorical questions simply keep the conversation going from one to another: “Wasn’t that movie terrific?” “Can you believe that hairdo?” etc.
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