1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Harrison Blake's use of pysma in the short story "The Infinites" by Philip K. Dick (1953)


A rhetorical term for the asking of multiple questions in succession.

Pysma is often regarded as a way of overwhelming an opponent through a rapid series of questions: "to deliver question after question--to let fly (as it were) a volley of questions, without waiting for the answers" (Jeremy Bentham).

See also:


From the Greek, "question"

Examples and Observations:

  • "When I crossed Olympic Boulevard, I entered the forbidden zone. More often than not, the police would stop me, question me, and then, in classic police fashion, question my answers.

    "'What are you doing in this neighborhood?'

    "'Goin' to visit my cousin.'

    "'Where does this cousin live?'

    "'On Orlando.'

    "'What's his name?'

    "'It's a woman. Her name is Lillian Keller.'

    "'How long has she lived there?'

    "The policemen (who were always white) then changed their tactics."
    (Walter Mosley, Life Out of Context. Nation Books, 2005)

  • "Finn McGee was strapped in tightly in the right front seat. The agents seemed menacing, and they were both armed. The driver focused on the road, intent on speed and seeming to enjoy the power of the enhanced V-8 engine as it whined through each turn and acceleration. Multitasking seemed to be his strong suit as he worked the interrogation from the driver's seat. 'How long have you known Frank Hayhurst, Dr. McGee?' was the first of a volley of questions. 'When did you see him last? Was it at the lab? What did you do yesterday before leaving for DC?'

    "The questions flew almost faster than the SUV. Finn closed his eyes as if trying to withdraw from the barrage and the view of the hectic pace on the highway. Heart racing with fear, he sensed a malicious intent in the interrogators."
    (Theodore Morrison Homa, Archimedes' Claw. AuthorHouse, 2011)

  • Pysma in Queen Margaret's Monologue
    "Where is thy husband now? Where be thy brothers?
    Where be thy two sons? Wherein dost thou joy?
    Who sues and kneels and says, 'God save the queen'?
    Where be the bending peers that flattered thee?
    Where be the thronging troops that followed thee?"
    (William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act IV, scene four)

  • Peacham on Pysma
    "Now thus many questions together, are as it were like unto a courageous fighter, that doth lay strokes upon his enemy so thick and so hard that he is not able to defend or bear half of them."
    (Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, 1577)

  • "[P]ysma can be used as a wonderfully intimidating device. It can also be considered a type of rhetorical question if the many questions asked do not require answers but are asked simply to bully someone or to express emotion."
    (Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 2005)

  • Capella on Erotema (Rhetorical Question) and Pysma
    "Erotema is a figure we use when by repeated questioning we accumulate points on a topic and enlarge upon its unattractive elements. Pysma is a form of question which differs from the preceding figure in that erotema postulates only one answer, whereas to pysma there cannot fail to be several answers; for example: 'What are our resources for waging war? What assistance shall we have? Who will be willing to come to our aid, when we have treated our allies so harshly?'"
    (Martianus Capella, quoted by William Harris Stahl with E. L. Burge in Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, Vol. 2. Columbia Univ. Press, 1977)

  • The Use of Pysma by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
    "[Jurist Beverly] Lake responded adroitly to questions from the justices. The most pointed came from Justice [Felix] Frankfurter, who had taught Lake at Harvard Law School; while at Harvard, Frankfurter had been an adviser to the NAACP, which, in the Brown case, argued for integration. It wasn't unusual for Frankfurter to fire a rapid series of questions at an attorney. During the first Brown arguments, Frankfurter shot so many questions at NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall that Marshall struggled to keep his cool. 'Frankfurter was a smart aleck, you know,' Marshall said later with a glare."
    (John Drescher, Triumph of Good Will: How Terry Sanford Beat a Champion of Segregation and Reshaped the South. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2000)
Pronunciation: PYS-ma
Also Known As: interrogation, percontatio
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary
  5. Paired Construction - Quotative
  6. pysma - definition and examples of pysma

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.