English 中文网 漫画网 爱新闻iNews 翻译论坛
当前位置: Language Tips > Zhang Xin

Trick question

[ 2011-08-30 11:31]     字号 [] [] []  
免费订阅30天China Daily双语新闻手机报:移动用户编辑短信CD至106580009009

Trick question

Reader question:

Please explain “trick question” in the following passage:

In his news conference yesterday he refused to promise we’d have fewer troops in Iraq this time next year. “Because,” he said, “that’s a trick question.”

My comments:

A trick is something you do in order to deceive someone. For example, you pretend to be ill, but it was just a trick – so that you may skip school or work.

A trick question is a question that’s tricky (deceptive), a question asked in such a way that it easily misleads the person being questioned to a wrong answer. In the top example, the person in question cannot promise a definite reduction of troops in Iraq because nobody knows what might happen this time next year. If he promised, he could look silly in twelve months’ time if there would be an escalation of fighting which, in turn, would require a greater number of troops.

Sometimes there is simply no good answer to a trick question. The classic example of a trick question is the one the lawyer raises for the defendant: “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?”

The defendant finds himself in a double bind, i.e. a no win situation. If he answers “Yes” it would imply that he did beat his wife some time in the past even though he’s stopped doing it now. If he answers “No”, of course, it implies he’s still a victim of domestic violence.

I mean a perpetrator of domestic violence; fallen victim to one of the lawyer’s tricky questioning techniques.

Anyways, a trick question is one that may or may not have a best answer but one thing is for sure – the answer that first springs to mind is usually not the right one.

Here are media examples of people who ask or answer to trick questions:

1. At first, it sounds like a trick question: “Did you hear about those who saw the partial solar eclipse at midnight last night?”

That is, until you realize that this time of year, there are places on Earth where the sun is still above the horizon at midnight -- namely the Arctic Circle. (In fact, many places, the sun is already up and won’t set for several weeks. In Barrow, Alaska, for example, the sun rose on May 11 and won't set again until August 2. It just spins full circle around the horizon.)

And June 1 provided a rare convergence of midnight sunshine and a partial solar eclipse that was visible in the arctic.

- A solar eclipse at midnight? It’s not a trick question, KomoNews.com, June 2, 2011.

2. Pop quiz, from a test administered by the Hearst Corporation in 1987.

True or False: The following phrases are found in the U.S. Constitution:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

“The consent of the governed.”

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“All men are created equal.”

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

This is what’s known as a trick question. None of these phrases are in the Constitution. Eight in ten Americans believed, like Boehner, that “all men are created equal” was in the Constitution. Even more thought that “of the people, by the people, for the people” was in the Constitution. (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, 1863.) Nearly five in ten thought “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was written in Philadelphia in 1787. (Karl Marx, 1875.)

About a quarter of American voters are what political scientists call, impoliticly, “know nothings,” meaning that they possess almost no general knowledge of the workings of their government, at least according to studies conducted by the American National Election Survey since 1948, during which time the know-nothing rate has barely budged.

- The Commandments: The Constitution and its worshippers, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


All very well, but

Wearing thin

The hard way

Call their bluff?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)