Quote: “I cannot begin to convey my own personal sense of loss over this senselessness of such an incomprehensible and heinous act.” Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech, in Time.
Figure of Speech: adynaton (a-DIN-a-ton), the loss-for-words figure. Also spelled adynata. From the Greek, meaning “powerless.”
A senior on this quiet university campus killed at least 32 people with a pair of handguns, leaving the place — the whole nation — in shock. President Steger responds with an adynaton, a figure of thought that amplifies his language by proclaiming its inadequacy. His words express how poorly words express. (See another use for the adynaton here.)
You usually find the figure in demonstrative rhetoric, the speech of values. That’s the rhetoric President Steger uses. But people are beginning to question how the university handled the crisis; that’s forensic rhetoric, the language of crime and punishment. And soon, deliberative rhetoric will have its say — political speech that determines what’s best in the long run. If the student purchased those handguns legally, you’ll hear this rhetoric very soon.
Snappy Answer: None. We grieve with you.
See more on the three types of rhetoric on page 27 of Figaro’s book.