Have you stopped beating your wife? - Origin

I know this is used as a response to a straw man argument, but what is the origin of this question? When and to whom was it asked?

I know I heard that line in high school (1974-77). I think it was old then. There was a politically incorrect companion question to that onenthat went:

“If a gay man jumped on your back, would you beat him off?”

I think it’s from the old music hall or Vaudeville days.

Well, this site gives an example of that type of question from Plato’s Republic,

but as for that actual question, all the sites I Googled just listed it as a “classic example”.

At least now I have a name for what was bugging me all through Republic.

It’s an example of a “loaded question”. I think Lawyers use it in Law School as a classic example.

You see, if I ask “Have you stopped beating your wife?”, I’m not asking if you ever beat her in the past, I know you did, I just asked if you’ve stopped yet.

Here is a better explanation.

You see, if I ask “Have you stopped beating your wife?”, I’m not asking if you ever beat her in the past, I know you did, I just asked if you’ve stopped yet.

You don’t know I did - you are trying to give others the idea that I did/put me in a bad position.

Right, a yes means you`ve stopped, but used to do it. A no means you are currently beating your wife.
A loaded question.

I’m not married.

No, because she’ll never take a damn lesson.

For an earlier cite, the quote is used in Heinlein’s Double Star in 1956, though I seriously doubt that he originated it.

Sublight Is there any way of checking if that is precisely what was said in the Republic or if that is a modern translator’s interpretation of what was said. I ask because translators will often insert modern expressions for older ones that would be meaningless to present day readers.

FWIW, this is also called a false dilemna. Groucho Marx used this so regularly that it was parodied in a Bugs Bunny cartoon:

I have always referred to this as a question for which there is no correct answer.
"When did you stop beating your wife, is also an excellent response to this type of question in general

“Rick, when did you stop using drugs?”
“Right after you stopped beating your wife”

I think the text quoted in that website is fairly accurate, but the “have you stopped beating your wife” is part of the commentary, rather than the original text.

Clearly the answer is “No, since I never started to”.

About 20 years ago when I was in the academy and they were training us to testify in court, some instructor asked the
“have you stopped beating your wife” question to a recruit, (in a light hearted manner). Without blinking an eye the recruit fired back “I had to. I was too tired out from f*cking yours”. I don’t think there was 1 person who wasn’t laughing themselves sick.

I guess you had to be there.:stuck_out_tongue:

Andrew T, to clarify things a little, you are only allowed to answer “yes” or “no” to the question.

Here is a thread I started on it back in March

You beat me to it, Motog. That’s exactly what I was thinking of. Haven’t seen that episode in years.

I am informed that the reason you haven’t seen it in years is because Warner Bros. have withdrawn it - the wife beating references were deemed to be a bit risky for a kids’ cartoon.

However, I have no cites for this and could be wrong, it’s just something that I picked up on a cartoon forum when I was looking for that quote.

Either that or you haven’t been watching cartoons for a while.