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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    The Small Print Is On the Wall

    Quote: “Trust in God Electronics”

    Figure of Speech: argumentum ad verecundiam, the appeal to traditional values. 

    Figaro loves this brand! It prayerfully dives into a common mistake in rhetorical ethos, or expression of character. Why rely on customer reviews, superior service, or a money-back guarantee when you can just say, “It’ll work, God willing!” 

    Wait. What’s wrong with being religious? 

    Nothing, unless you’re hoping that will help you sell fridges and cookers. Every brand is a kind of ethos. As with your own personal ethos, a brand’s persuasiveness depends on whether people like and trust it. Aristotle described three basic tools for enhancing ethos: disinterest or selflessness (eunoia), the impression that you have only your audience’s interest at heart; practical wisdom (phronesis), seeming to have the knowledge and experience to know what to do with a video deck (what’s a video deck?); and virtue (arete), apparently sharing the audience’s values and living up to them.

    Which of these qualities would you look for in a guy who’s selling you a TV? Or put it in a different context: Suppose you were flying to Florida and the pilot came over the PA and said, “I hope everybody trusts in God.”

    Personally, Figaro would pray like heck.


    The President Is Feeling Bleu

    Quote: “Commander in Cheese” -White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, referringto President Trump

    Figure of Speech: acyrologia (a-keer-o-LO-gia), the fortunate mix-up. More commonly known as the malapropism (MAL-a-prop-ism). 

    This slip of the tongue is as gouda it gets. Whey to go, Kellyanne! While this was no muenster of a mistake, it never curd to us that the President of the United States would command dairy. 

    Please don’t edam Figaro for these puns. When it comes to cheese, he can’t help himself.

    “Commander in cheese” makes an excellent malapropism.  It’s an eponym named for the addlebrained literary character, Mrs. Malaprop.  But credit the Greeks for coining the figure two and a half millennia before.  The acyrologia (“unauthorized speech”) swaps a word with a like-sounding but fortuitously wrong substitute.While Ms. Conway deserves to be feta’d for her malapropism, of course the figure’s reigning master is Yogi Berra.

    What makes Ms. Conway’s slipup unusual is that it seems to have been accidental. Usually when she speaks nonsense it’s on purpose, a great rhetorical technique of obfuscation. Here is her complete sentence (if you can call this salmagundi of words a sentence):

    The problem with the President of the United States, and the commander of cheese — chief — expressing that opinion is what?

    Snappy Answer:  “He just commands American cheese, right?”


    Making Sweet Love with a Sentence in a Hayloft

    Quote: “It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn in Gallipolis and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland.” – Ohio Supreme Court Justice and gubernatorial candidate Bill O’Neill, on Facebook.

    Figure: anacoluthon (an-ah-coh-LOO-thon), the sentence with ADD. From the Greek, meaning “lacking consistency.”

    Harken, students of English grammar: If you think your studies are unimportant, consider the man who just wrecked his political career on the shoals of a run-on sentence.

    Bill O’Neill is sick and tired of all these angry women attacking grope-prone heterosexual males like Senator Al Franken. So O’Neill attempts to win over voters by bragging about shagging “approximately 50 very attractive females.” Boy, that ought to earn this Democrat the women’s vote!

    But then, in a drunken perp walk of a sentence, the randy judge includes long-dead Ohio politician Robert Taft among the bevy of sexual conquests.

    What put poor Mr. Taft in that hayloft? A pronoun (“who”) with a misplaced antecedent (“Taft”).

    As if the sentence hadn’t done enough harm already, it goes on to imply that a “drop dead gorgeous” redheaded insurance executive joined the ancient senator and a merely “gorgeous” secretary in that hayloft.

    The lesson: If you find yourself using more than one “and” to connect clauses in a sentence, you probably should turn that one sentence into two sentences. Or three. And whenever you use a pronoun, pair it with a family-friendly antecedent.

    Snappy Answer: Senator Taft was drop dead. But was he gorgeous?


    And We Won’t Call Him a Crazy Old Man Who Yells at His TV

    Quote: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ –Donald Trump

    Figure: paralepsis (pah-rah-LEP-sis), Greek for “omission.” Also occultation, Latin from occultere, to hide or conceal.

    The President of the United States and the Supreme Leader of North Korea are conducting an interesting and ever-so-risky rhetorical experiment, to see whether the pen truly is mightier than the sword.

    By “pen,” of course, we mean “Tweet.” And by “sword” we mean…well, Figaro doesn’t want to think about that.

    In the latest undiplomatic exchange between atomic powers, Kim called Trump a “dotard,” meaning a person in his dotage—old, useless, the sort who forgets where he left the nuclear codes.

    Trump, in exchange, semi-humorously targeted Kim with a paralepsis. This figure of thought declares something while denying the declaration. In this case, the Prez is employing a tiny bit of humor. Which would be funnier if civilization weren’t hanging in the balance.

    Not that we’re calling President Trump a dangerous dotard who watches Fox News and then conducts foreign policy while sitting on this toilet tapping into his phone. That would be disrespectful. And Figaro is always respectful.


    Being Famous Means Never Saying You're Sorry

    Why are public figures so bad at apologizing?

    It has to do with belittlement: an audience’s feeling of being dissed, and its desire to see the culprit shrink. The problem is, big stars don’t want to become little planets. 

    So how does a bigshot—or you, for that matter—apologize without shrinking? Follow these steps:

    1. Own up to the mistake. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
    2. Focus on your emotions, not how you hurt someone else. Say how bad you feel about screwing up.
    3. Show how your mistake was an exception to the rule. You’re a great, thoughtful person who temporarily lapsed.
    4. Promise improvement and show what you’re going to do to fix any remaining problems.

    Here’s a video I did with details.


    What's a "Period"? It Comes from the Breath of the Gods

    I recently gave a keynote speech at the European Speechwriters Conference in Berlin. The subject had to do with a concept I’ve been noodling over for many years: the rhetorical period. I shared a discovery I made some time ago: that the climaxes of great speeches in movies and politics last 12 seconds.

    Here’s a short version of what I said.