Gilbert: Asking rhetorical questions

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(HOST) Commentator and Vermont Humanities Council executive director Peter Gilbert has lots of questions on his mind.  And they’re all rhetorical.

(GILBERT) Rhetorical questions are odd things, aren’t they?  I mean, don’t they just make it harder for people to understand each other?  Why can’t we communicate in a more straight-forward manner?  Wouldn’t that be simpler?  

Don’t  we do it just for rhetorical effect, because it sounds compelling and persuasive?

Intimidation is part of their effectiveness, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t really want to argue with someone who wants and expects wordless agreement, do you?  And don’t rhetorical questions set up a psychic "with us or against us" divide between those people intelligent enough to agree with the speaker and all those other, poor benighted souls?

Why do we continue to make statements in the form of questions?  Wouldn’t you think that we’d know better by now? Do you think it’s "the Jeopardy effect"?  Have we watched that TV show so often that we’re now sure to state not just our answer in the form of a question, but even our statements?  Has American culture really been reduced to that?  What will become of us?  Who knows?

But it’s been ever thus, hasn’t it?  I mean, what does it say about our country that our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," written nearly 200 years ago, begins with two rhetorical questions and ends with a third?

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And who can forget that stirring last line?

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But it isn’t just Americans, is it?  Have you noticed how the English have the annoying habit of adding the words, "isn’t it?" or "aren’t they?" at the end of a sentence in an attempt to turn even the most dubious statements into unassailable assertions?  Well, I mean, they should be shot, shouldn’t they?

Why is it that parents, too, tend to speak in rhetorical questions?  "What in the world were you thinking?  Have you lost your mind?  Did you not hear what I just said?  Do you think that money grows on trees?  Do you expect these dishes to wash themselves?  Who do you think you are, young lady?  Whom do you think you’re talking to?  Where do you think you’re going?  How many times do I have to say it?"

When will we ever learn?  

But, hey, we don’t have to take everything too seriously, now do we?

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