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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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    Speechless Speech


    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 Speechadynaton (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.


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    Reader Comments (4)

    It may be tempting for some readers to criticize *any* rhetorical analysis of what's getting said in (about) this event, given its magnitude, feeling it defies any explanation whatsoever, rhetorical or otherwise. Your handling of it, though, is (in my opinion) admirable, well-handled, and, in a sense, another demonstration of the rhetorical figure you identify. No explanation of an event can ever "measure up" or do justice to the event itself. Then again, neither can leaving it alone, unexamined, nor the conditions (or juridical provisions) that made it possible. Many thanks for your entry on this.
    April 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPermanent Parabasis
    Dear Figaro,

    Do you know the Cheryl Wheeler song “Take Away the Guns.” It is very powerful to hear her sing it and truer words were never spoken – especially in light of this event. No snappy answer for any of us, least of all those poor parents.


    April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPolly
    Off topic, but are you aware of this infringement on your territory?

    April 18, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdogscratcher
    About that, I have nothing to say. However, I like the cut of your jib.
    April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKimberley

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