Rhetorical Devices: Hypophora

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link. For a comprehensive, step-by-step overview of how to write a speech outline, please see this post.

Device: Hypophora

Origin: From the Greek ὑπόϕορά (hypofora), meaning “carrying under” or “putting under”.

In plain English: Asking a question and immediately answering it.

Effect:

    • There is a sense that the speaker is having a dialogue with the audience. The speaker asks a question (usually one that is on the minds of his listeners) and then answers it.
    • Asking the question arouses the curiosity of the audience about the answer. Thus, a well-timed pause between the question and answer can heighten the effect.
    • The speaker appears confident and in control.

Notes:

    • Technically, hypophora is the question; anthyphophora is the answer. However, hypophora is frequently used to mean both question and answer.
    • Hyphora is similar to a rhetorical question. The difference is that when a speaker poses a rhetorical question, he does not answer it. The answer to a rhetorical question is implied by the way and context in which the question is asked.
    • The question or questions in a hypophora will often be used to set up a long answer, which is point that the speaker wishes to make.

Examples:

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.”

— Winston Churchill, 4 June 1940

———

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 August 1963

———

And how’d you get that [becoming King], eh? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.”

— Monty Python, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

———

What is George Bush doing about our economic problems? He has raised taxes on the people driving pickup trucks and lowered taxes on the people riding in limousines.”

— Bill Clinton, Democratic National Convention, 16 July 1992

———

Are they meeting and having discussions on these things? Yes. Have they been meeting for some weeks and months? Yes. Does that imply a certain amount of understanding that that process might be useful? Yes.”

— Donald Rumsfeld, 26 October 2006

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23 Replies to “Rhetorical Devices: Hypophora”

    1. Thanks, Dave. Much appreciated. And a great example of a rhetorical question on your part! As for the Pythons, without a doubt they have a deserved place in the Pantheon of Comedy. Witty, wacky, intellectual – they had it all and they delivered it in a truly unique style.
      John

  1. For my communication ethics class, we are asked to comment on a blog pertaining to our discussions and readings of the week. This week is rhetoric. We have read The Plenary Address by Dave Zarefsky discussing the 3 responsibilities of rhetoric: promote public reason, unite the audience, and inspire a direction in the audience (Smith and Warnick, 2010, p. 13-17).
    The speakers you have mentioned in this blog all use these three responsibilities. “Rhetoric is there to help human beings deliberate about the certainty of their uncertain existence (Cheney, et al. 2011, p. 30). Aristotle searched for a balance between saying what the audience wants to hear, much like what President Clinton was accused of, to the communicators that make little or no connection to their audience (Johannesen et al. 2008, p. 3). Your blog post discusses Hypophora as a uniquely used tool, that when used correctly, can connect the audience and the communicator.
    You have posted the best example of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Who cannot connect with that? Noone.

    1. Thank you for the comprehensive and instructive comment, Cheryl. It even came with citations – Wow! (And nice one on your own hypophora at the end.)
      Best wishes for the rest of your communication ethics class.
      John

  2. Do you know why most dictionaries don’t contain an entry for hypophora? I looked in a webster’s dictionary and an online app dictionary for the entry to no avail.

    1. Hi Bob,
      I suppose it’s because the word is so rarely used. I recall having this experience with other words in the past although I cannot remember which words they were. However, I did come across this reference in Wikipedia that mentions that there is a definition for “hypophora” in the Century Dictionary.
      Regards,
      John

  3. Your transliteration of the Greek requires an initial ‘h’ and the following vowel should be ‘y’, not ‘i’.
    Otherwise, thanks.

  4. Hi John, I’m Julie. I am a psychotherapist and I am curious on your thoughts regarding hypophora in every day conversation versus a more public platform.
    Do you think there is any suggestion on an unconscious level when clients ask their questions and answer them immediately? “Do I think I should have gone to my daughter’s soccer game instead of on that date after the divorce? Yes, I do.” In your opinion, do you think they use that language to convince themselves of something and put themselves on a ‘metaphoric platform differential’; meaning what you’d said above re: effect of “appearing” confident and in control. Appearing being the key word there.
    As well, in other conversations that are not at work, I find friends of mine who don’t handle silence well, when they ask a question before the other guy has a moment to answer, they jump in and answer the question themselves just by guessing. If you need me to give an example with that one, let me know. I find it so frustrating, unfortunately.
    Thanks for your time.
    Best, Julie

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for comment and the question. It is an interesting one and, not being a specialist in psychotherapy, I am not sure that I have a good answer. But let me try.
      When we are on stage speaking to an audience, we do not usually expect the audience to answer back. (Obvious exceptions include a Q&A toward the end of a talk or questions designed to elicit specific responses upon which the talk will be built.) So the beauty of hypophora is that it engages the audience by getting them to think about the question and – the speaker hopes – agreeing with the answer that the speaker gives. The effect can be enhanced by lengthening the pause between question and answer.
      You can use hypophora for the same effect in a one-on-one conversation, but I would think it would be used in situations where you are trying to persuade the other person of something. For example, one business partner trying to get another to agree to an investment or idea.
      Now, as for the examples that you cite, it seems to me that in those cases, the speaker might not be trying so much to persuade you as he / she is trying to validate their feelings. I know it is very similar to what I said in the preceding paragraph, but for me the former is an example of someone trying to lead and rally support whereas in the latter is an example of someone seeking to justify an action or thought.
      Now, I can also imagine situations like the one you mentioned where the speaker asks a question and answers it, but then lets you offer your opinion. Yes, by answering the question, they are probably hoping you will agree with their answer, but they could be open-minded enough to listen to a different point of view.
      Concerning your final example, I too find it frustrating to speak to someone who constantly speaks so as to avoid silence or to continue to occupy the “speaking space”. I will let them go on for a bit, but I have no problem (politely) interrupting to get a word in.
      I don’t know how helpful this is, but those are my thoughts. Thanks again for your interest.
      Cheers!

    1. Hi Mary. Thanks for the question.
      Hypophora is, as explained in the post, asking a question during a speech and then answering it. I confess that I had not heard the term “question-in-narrative” before. After doing some research, it strikes me that the latter is a literary device, common in novels. A character asks himself or herself a question, but it seems that the answer does not necessarily come immediately if it comes at all.
      For example, a character in a story might think himself alone in a house and suddenly hear footsteps upstairs. The text might then go something like this: The noise surprised Bob. Hadn’t Mary left two hours ago? Slowly, he climbed the stairs.”. An author could string out the scene, having Bob walk up, inspect each room and find nothing. Or something. Or we could learn what made the noise several chapters later.
      That, I believe is the difference. What do you think?

  5. It is like asking a joke question–How many lightbulbs does it take etc and the person starts to guess at the answer and messes up your joke. He/she is supposed to say, I don’t know, or set you up and say I don’t know, how MANY blah blah does it take etc.

    1. Hi Dorie. Yes, I suppose that a “lightbulb joke” is a type of hypophora. The one difference is that in a speech, the speaker is not expecting the audience to answer out loud. With jokes, as you point out, sometimes the listener answers and sometimes the joke teller even wants the listener to take a shot or at least say, “I don’ know.” Thanks for the comment!

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