About This Site

Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
(What are figures of speech?)
Ask Figaro a question!

This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Wednesday
    Aug052015

    The Best Pickup Line? "Ethos."

    I get asked this question all the time: “Hey, Persuasion Guy…” (Actually, nobody calls me Persuasion Guy, though I wish they would). “What’s the most surefire pickup line in a bar?”

    Dude. (That’s what I call guys who want pickup lines.) If a woman wants you to pick her up, just don’t say anything that blows it. The woman will be judging you more than your lines. Which brings us to the theory of Ethos, your expressed character.

    First, show that you care about the woman. A great pickup line? Ask her a question about herself. Compliment her shoes and ask where she got them. (Straight guys rarely compliment a woman’s shoes, so at the least you’ll surprise her.) This is eunoia, disinterested good will. It’s the Caring part of Ethos.

    Next, show you know what you’re doing. Signal the bartender suavely. This is phronesis, the Craft part of Ethos.

    Finally, show respect and good manners. That’s arete, or virtue, the cause part. You’re a genuinely good guy.

    Yeah, some women aren’t looking for a genuinely good guy. They’re looking for an exciting, even dangerous guy. In which case, work harder on your Craft. And here you’re on your own. I’ve been happily married for too long to look dangerous. 

    Here’s a video Christina and I made. I cut out the part where she talks about what she thinks is the perfect line. Sorry. She already has Ryan Gosling as an imaginary boyfriend.

    Tuesday
    Jul142015

    Tired of Office Clichés? Try These!

    Figaro just wrote this piece for the Man Guide, about the stupid expressions that make you look like an office tool. Our favorite part (if we do say so ourselves) comes at the end,when we suggest replacement clichés that aren’t even clichés yet. Call them proto-clichés.

    Air-kiss : Insincere praise, as in, “They totally air-kissed our presentation.”

    Anaerobic : An unsustainable pace. From sports, when a sprinting athlete goes into oxygen deprivation.

    Drop-set : Adding a few easy tasks to a hard one. From weightlifting, when you add a set with lower weights.

    Drop the towel : Less sexist than “Open the kimono”; to operate transparently.

    Eat the worm : Overdo it. You know, like getting drunk and eating the larva at the bottom of a bottle.

    Ground-truth : Use instead of “due diligence” or “fact-check.” In satellite imaging it means checking the accuracy and interpretation of pictures from space.

    Terminal velocity : Going as fast as we can before we hit the ground.

    Yoga pants deadline : Tight and transparent.

    Monday
    Jul062015

    Prosopopoiea: Pronounce It, Then Use It

    Pro-so-po-PEE-ah. OK, you can pronounce it. Every teacher of speech and rhetoric should use it in class. Why? For one thing, every rhetoric class used to consider this exercise essential to oratory. For another, it really works.

    Prosopopeia has students pretending to be great speakers from the present and past. You try to imitate the character and voice of a famous person, often in a novel setting. For example, have James Madison lecture the current Supreme Court on the Constitution. Or have different women in history argue why they should be on the $10 bill.

    The more dramatic students really get into it. But even shy students can benefit, pretending to be someone else for a while. Besides being a fun speech exercise, it’s a terrific way to teach history—by channeling it.

    Here’s a video we did for our sister site, ArgueLab.

    Monday
    Jun292015

    Talk Your Way Out of a Traffic Ticket

    You may be interested in our sister site, ArgueLab, which has a post and fun video on how to get out of a ticket. The story might be familiar to you. You can find it here.

     

    Monday
    Jun082015

    Can Cicero Help You Snag a College or Job?

    Why, yes he can.

    In Thank You for Arguing, Jay shows how the Ciceronian outline can help you make a winning speech or presentation. That same outline can work for a job or college interview. It’s simple:

    Start with a good first impression, boosting your ethos—the audience’s impression of your character. Show you know the job and would be good at it, that you understand the company, and that you’d be a good fit. The same things work for a college, only they’re also looking for virtue, signs that you’re a good, mature person. Talk about the lessons you’ve learned. Be confident but humble.

    Next, ask good questions and show a command of the facts. Make your case for why you’re better than the competition. Tell a good story of a problem you solved.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to show a little emotion. Don’t sing opera or burst out sobbing. Just a little passion. Say how excited you are about the possibility of working or studying at this wonderful place, and that you’re sure you’re the perfect fit. Let your eyes shine, lean forward a little and—lower your voice a bit. Strangely enough, speaking more quietly can show more passion, as if you’re sharing a secret.

    Watch this video to see how our ArgueLab colleague, Christina, does it.

    Tuesday
    May262015

    The Art of Framing

    What does it mean to “frame” an issue? Is it like framing a picture of your sweet grandmother, the one where she’s smoking her favorite pipe?

    Yeah, kind of. To frame an issue means to put it in your own box, setting up the terms and context in a way that favors you. (To get the details about framing, see Thank You for Arguing, revised edition, page 123.)

    The most important tool of framing is redefinition, in which you redefine the terms of the argument. The tobacco industry did this neatly back in the 1970s, when it talked about the “controversy” over the health hazards of smoking. Scientists and doctors saw no controversy at all. Smoking is terrible for you, period. But the word “controversy” framed the smoking issue by sowing doubt. And guess what framing word climate change deniers are using these days? Yep. “Controversy.”

    Here’s a video that uses framing to answer a question from a high school student. Tell us what you think in the comments.