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.

    Ask Figaro

    Got a question about rhetoric, figures, Figaro, Figaro's book,the nature of the universe, or just want to lavish praise?

    Write in the form at the bottom of this page.

    Dear Fig,

    My name is John Falter. I picked up your book in the University of Central Florida bookstore last February. Your book opened up a new and exciting world of rhetoric for me. Now at my new school, I have just completed an independent study project on the oratory of Cicero-- I would have never studied anything like that if it weren't for your book. Because of what "Thank You For Arguing" catalyzed, I am now starting to work on my thesis, "Historical Perspectives in Rhetoric Pedagogy and the Spirit of Revolution"-- intense, huh?

    As a third year in college trying to get into law school, I'm looking for oppurtunities to do research,work, or anything this coming summer. I was wondering if you, as such an awesome rhetorician, knew of a good thing, or anything, for a young rhetoric student to do, other than read (because that's a given), during their summer.

    Thanks for your book,

    Dear John,

    You're not a figment of Figaro's imagination, are you? After all, he wrote the book for you. You're the guy who's going to save the country.

    Guys who save the country don't always do it for little or no pay; but if you're willing to make peanuts (or somewhat less), Figaro himself may have something for you. Email him: Figaro@wildblue.net.

    February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Falter
    Dear Figaro,

    Bush offered some modest plans for his last year in office.
    "By the State of the Union of the eighth year, reality is the guest in the balcony," said Michael Waldman, Bill Clinton's former chief White House speechwriter.
    'Reality is the guest', a nice figure.
    Please give your analysis.

    Yours ,

    Arie Vrolijk

    Dear Arie,
    I believe it's straightforward PERSONIFICATION, the ghost in rhetoric's machine.
    January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commentera. vrolijk
    Dear Figaro,

    I am writing a scientific paper on conversational tautologies like "Boys will be boys", "War is war" or "A husband is a husband".
    Now I ran across the sentence " “Maybe linguists are linguists because they can’t have any fun of their own with language.”
    Would you say that this a tautology? And where is the point when tautologies stop making sense?

    Thanks and best regards,
    January 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJascha
    Hello, i am romanian and i have a few terms that i am
    > supposed to categorize by figure of speech and
    > stylistic level. I figured soome of them out, but
    > could you help me categorize the following terms,
    > please?
    > Cold War, French Kiss, Deadline, End of Story,8. Good
    > Samaritan,Heavy Metal,High five,Jinx,Mayday ,No
    > dice,Over the Top, Push the envelope,Rise and
    > shine,Safe Sex,Sleep Tight,Shake a leg,Strike a
    > deal,That¹s all Folks!,Break a leg,Dog days,Down the
    > drain,Pot calling the kettle black,Speak of the
    > devil,Asking for it,Fifth wheel,Between a rock and a
    > hard place
    > I would appreciate it if you could help me place them
    > in the right figure of speech category. Thank You in
    > advance, Stef

    Dear Stef,
    Figaro would love to categorize Safe Sex, French Kiss, Speak of the Devil, and Down the Drain for you, but he's happily married. Actually, all of your terms fall in one category: the IDIOM. Search Figaro's site for more.
    January 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStef
    Dear Figaro,

    I've seen this odd ad campaign by Honda:

    "The Fit is Go!"

    And the artwork and other text in the vehicle's advertisements reflect a certain... is it "anime" style? Exclamation points abound, and funny word choice is another key element.

    Is this the conscious use of Engrish in advertising? If so, I think it's the first example.

    Brandon Smith,
    News editor of a student newspaper

    Dear Brandon,

    Good question. The Fit campaign could be an Eastern form of Fahrfignugen. Or it could reflect NASA's Right Stuff Americanisms, "System is go" and "We're go to launch."

    Figaro would have to see the marketing plan before deciding. That's a negative, Houston.

    January 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Smith
    Dear Figaro,

    I much admire the work you are doing and since I have found your database, articles and general wisdom quite amazing, I decided to ask for your advice.

    I have to deliver a speech quite soon and although I have basic knowledge of rhetorics (I had a compulsory course at university) I am concerned with the nature of the topic. It has to be a kind of a didactic speech about the education system, not too long, not too short, no introducing own ideas, no fancy talk, no nothing...just general information. Since these can get quite boring (personal experience) I was wondering if there is any way I could spice it up a bit and keep the audience interested for approximately half an hour. I will be delivering the speech in a language which is not my native tongue, therefore I have to prepare throughly.

    Thanks in advance,

    Viktor K.

    P.S. Another downside is that I am not the only person giving a speech on that occasion so it is quite possible people will ALREADY be bored by the time I have to deliver mine...oh the woe!

    Dear Viktor,

    Figaro feels your pain. He seems doomed to deliver his speeches between two and three in the afternoon, when the human circadian rhythm is at an ebb. But take heart from Cicero, who undoubtedly had to follow boring blowhards himself.

    First, Cicero would say, gain the audience's sympathy. Don't do it by admitting you're not speaking your native tongue. Instead, suck up to the audience and inject a small dose of humor, viz.:

    "I'm going to make three points. [Summarize them in a sentence.] There, I've made them. But while Shakespeare would say hopefully, 'The rest is silence,' allow me to fill in the details."

    Next, fill in the details with as many anecdotal examples as you can get away with. After that, raise any possible objections to your argument (if such you are making). Finally, list your points again and, if you like, urge the audience to take some action or tell them why your argument is important to them. Don't be afraid to get a little emotional at the end, Cicero advises. This works even before a professional audience, provided that you don't overdo the pathos.

    Now, knock 'em dead (professionally speaking).


    January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterViktor Kay
    As an academic rhetorician--the type of guy who calls demonstrative rhetoric what it is, epideictic rhetoric--I am increasingly, year by year, aggravated by various public figures engaging in excessive hypophora. Whether it's a political figure or a coach in college sports, people overuse rhetorical questions. The rhetorical question followed by the quick answer seems rhetorically schizophrenic to me since people use it so much.

    Any thoughts on why rhetorical questions are being overused?

    Quintilian B. Nasty

    Dear Quint,

    You know why that is? I'll tell you why that is. Our society has become increasingly undeliberative, as your question implies. ("What do we want? Groupthink! When do we want it? Now!") Demonstrative rhetoric -- or epideictic, as you Greek-talking Romans insist on calling it -- brings the tribe together through talk of shared values. It can inspire patriotism and self-sacrifice, but too much of it results in tribal divisions.

    The language of values politics is demonstrative rhetoric. Demonstrative rhetoric leads to tribalism. And tribalism is democracy's kryptonite.

    The American founders knew that tribalism inevitably leads to dictatorship. It was the one thing they feared the most. And who is Figaro to argue?

    Nobody, that's who.

    January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterQuintilian B. Nasty
    Dear Figaro,

    After losing a battle all candidates are so brave! I am so deeply impressed! They keep up appearances and put on a brave face. Are they superhuman?

    Richardson: "We head out west and the fight goes on, Thank you, New Hampshire, thank you for all you did for us!"

    Giuliani: "We've made a lot of good friends here."

    Obama: "I am still fired up and ready to go,"

    Clinton: "This is a great night for Democrats, We have seen an unprecedented turnout here in Iowa."

    Thompson : "The fight goes on, my friends,"

    Huckabee: "Nobody thought that we would even be one of the contenders in New Hampshire,"

    Romney: "I've gotten two silvers and one gold,"

    Giuliani: "Think of it as the kickoff."

    Dodd : "The fights we've waged in this campaign will not end tonight."

    Biden: "Look, folks, there's nothing to be sad about tonight, I feel no regrets, not one single solitary ounce of regret."

    How do they manage?

    Please give us your comments.

    Arie Vrolijk

    Dear Arie,

    All of our undefeated pols are using a bright figure we'll call the sonnyandcherism.

    January 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commentera. vrolijk
    Dear Figaro,

    In early December, Rollins sent an e-mail to Huckabee offering his paid services, which Huckabee accepted.

    "With someone like me," Rollins says, "you've got someone who's been around the track.
    If I don't have a good horse, I'm not going to win.
    But if I have a medium horse, I can make him a competitor.
    If I have a great horse, he's a winner. All I have to do is not fall off."
    Please, Figaro give the world your analysis and comments,

    Arie vrolijk.

    Ed Rollins, the Republican election guru, is employing an equine CONCEIT, or extended metaphor. The slow-moving, heavyset adviser puts himself in the jockey's saddle to show how he is at spurring his mount.

    January 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commentera. vrolijk
    Comment, if you will, on Bernard-Henri Levy's pathos-heavy tribute to Benazir Bhutto:
    [N]ow they have killed Benazir Bhutto—killed her because she was a woman, because she had a woman’s face, unadorned yet filled with an unswerving strength, because she was living out her destiny and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists (the jihadists) floats over the human face of women.

    Dear M,

    The logorrheic Frenchman is employing a kind of METONYMY, making Bhutto's face stand for--not just Bhutto herself, but strong women in the land of Islam.

    December 30, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermstone
    Hi Figaro - Regarding the entry about Obama, Islam and innuendo, how about paralipsis? Thanks.

    Dear Mark,
    PARALIPSIS, the no-pun-intended figure, distances the speaker from his own statement. "He's one of those sneaky Mormons--not that I'm against Mormons or anything." Bob Kerry isn't quite doing that when he repeatedly mentions Obama's Muslim ancestry.
    December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMark
    Dear Figaro,

    The Washington Post yesterday ran a piece about scientists creating synthetic DNA and paving the way for synthetic lifeforms to create, among other things, alternative fuels, fabrics, and medicines.


    One "watchdog group" wants strict rules against releasing synthetic organisms, for obvious safety reasons. Here's their (certainly carefully-crafted) soundbite quote:

    "The danger is not just bio-terror but bio-error."

    What kind of figure is that? It seems like a syncrisis, in that it is "not ... but", yet it seems additive rather than forcing an either/or. It feels to me like a chiasmus "in spirit", but I'm sure I'm wrong there too.


    Dear Dave,

    It's also the delectably named DIRIMENS COPULATIO, the but- wait- there's- more figure. It's a bonus point beyond an already-convincing argument: "Afraid of terrorism? Well, that's not the only problem here." By inserting the D. copulatio into a rhyming syncrisis, the watchdog group makes error sound like an inevitable add-on to terror.

    Synthetic additive, indeed.

    December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDave
    "It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal."

    Dog whistle politics? Bringing up a "bad" fact and saying it's good? What is the real deal?


    Dear Arthur,

    It's a form of innuendo, Latin for "make a significant nod." The classic campaign innuendo makes a vicious accusation against an opponent by denying it. Richard Nixon did it when he ran for governor against Pat Brown in 1962. He repeatedly denied that Brown was a communist, which of course raised the previously moot issue of whether Brown actually was a communist.Brown denied it, too, but his denials just repeated Nixon's innuendo.

    This time, it's not the Republicans doing the sleaze. It's Democrats. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, campaigning for Hillary, said it.

    What can Obama do? Redefine the sleazebag's quote: "Even Senator Kerrey, who's for Hillary, thinks I have more international experience."

    Then let's see ol' Bob wiggle out of that one.

    December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterArthur
    Dear Figaro,
    Does the following sentence employ an incremental epistrophe: “In New York City, especially in Greenwich Village, down among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has-beens and the might’ve’beens and the would-bes and the never-wills and the God-knows-whats, I have always felt at home”. (pg 623, Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel, Vintage, “Joe Gould’s Secret”) Thank you for your time and expertise in this matter.
    Merry Christmas
    Martin and Leia

    Dear M&L,

    Ah, Joe Mitchell, the greatest writer journalism ever produced (yeah, that includes, you, Mr. Hemingway). "Up in the Old Hotel," the collection of Mitchell's New Yorker non-fiction, mixes the hard-boiled with the lyrical like no other literature.

    Your quotation qualifies as a POLYSYNDETON, a figure that connects parts of a sentence with a repeated conjunction ("This AND this AND this..."). Mitchell uses it to make his list seem longer, and to bracket each item. It's a subtle way of boldfacing each point.

    But that's not all. He embeds his glorious polysyndeton, performing another figure called the PARENTHESIS. (And you know what a parenthesis is.) Mitchell's parenthetical tour de force gives the impression of a man who strays from the beaten path--both literally and syntactically.

    These two figures combine to give the impression of an inspired wanderer. Which is what he was.

    December 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMartin and Leia
    I always hear people trying to downplay the mistakes they make using the popular phrase, "my bad."

    Is this a modern version of the Latin mea culpa, or some other type of rhetorical strategy?

    It always seems to come out of the mouths of those who are quick to judge me, but insist on forgiveness for themselves.
    December 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMikeP
    Rhetorically, who is doing the best in the WGA strike? I mean, what rhetoric is each side using and who is using it the most effectively? And what Rhetoric could end the strike? And finally, who do you think is right? (You don't have to answer the last one if you don't want too.)
    December 12, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermadammina
    Dear Figaro,
    Fiat recently introduced a retro Fiat-500, a tiny automobile,The slogan was: 'You are, we car.'Please, Figaro, analyse and evaluate this slogan for me. Figarist for ever,I wait for your expert opinion.
    Arie Vrolijk.

    Dear Arie,

    "You are, we car" employs an ANTHIMERIA, the verbing figure, which turns nouns into verbs, adjectives into nouns, and the like. Fiat is into carring, apparently. It's also into IDENTITY STRATEGIES, using a campaign that emphasizes the "500,000 car combinations" the model offers, allowing you to find the car that's just for you. The car company hopes your unconscious will do this fallacious little syllogism:

    You are the essence of you.
    Fiat is the essence of car. Ergo,
    Fiat is the essence of you.

    Figaro would not want to meet the focus groups who approved this message.

    Snappy Answer: "We don't car for you."

    December 11, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterarie vrolijk
    Hi Figaro, love your site. Still trying to pin down a certain kind of figure which I want to call metalepsis. Is there any Classical or other name for an adaptation of a known saying, as in "Thanks for the ideas. You are the wind beneath my essay"?

    Dear Spencer,

    Your example isn't a metalepsis; that's the "butterfly effect" figure, which attributes events to remote clauses. Your "wind beneath my essay" qualifies as a kind of SNOWCLONE, which adapts cliches to particular ends. It's also an ADIANOETA, which conceals an ironic meaning. While it sounds flattering, no writer wants to be "wind."

    You'll find all these figures described in more detail on this site. Just use the excellent search tool on the right.

    December 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer Hawkins
    Dear Figaro,
    This Christmas I plan to ask a woman to marry me. We've been dating for two years, and I'm 99% sure of success, but want to do this thing right, rhetorically speaking. Any advice?

    Dear Nup,

    As the great orator Gorgias (we call him "Gorgeous") would say, it's best to drug her. Not through drugs per se, but through figures of speech. That's how Paris talked Helen into the affair that launched those thousand ships.

    A well-chosen figure lets you say something memorable. And, take it from Figaro: the woman will remember the exact language of your proposal for the rest of her life. (Figaro's wife can recite his word for word, while Figaro can't for the life of him remember what he said, possibly because he happened to be drunk at the time.)

    A great figure for the occasion is the ANADIPLOSIS, the build-on figure, which begins each new clause or sentence with the words that end the previous one, e.g.:

    "The more I've come to know you, the more you've become a true friend. And the more you've become a friend, the more my love grows. And the more it grows, the more I want it to continue to grow forever. Will you marry me?"

    Trust Figaro. Say it with an absolutely straight face, with utter sincerity, and your beloved--along with romantic immortality--will be yours.

    December 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNuptializing
    Dear Figaro,

    Thanks for your clarification on the dearth of a nice blanket term for "reverse anthropomorphization." By the way, I have used the word "naturalization" on occasion though it feels dicey.

    And, as you've pointed out, in the case of attributing "inappropriate" emotion to inanimate objects, we'd call it the bathetic fallacy. Still doesn't quite cover all possibilities, but not bad.

    Dear JJ,

    Naturalization qualifies as the bathetic fallacy if it's unintentionally funny. Good call.

    December 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjj

    PostCreate a New Post

    Enter your information below to create a new post.
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.