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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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    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.




    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.