Quote: “I would engage in some form of syntax destruction which sounded as though I were answering the question, but in fact, had not.” Alan Greenspan, in an interview with 60 Minutes.
Figure of Speech: skotison (SKO-tih-son), the figure of ultimate darkness. From the Greek, meaning “darken it.”
Former Federal Reserve Chairman and Treasury Secretary Alan Greenspan’s memoir is causing a minor tsunami in Washington. The self-described “libertarian conservative” ranks Clinton’s presidency above George W. Bush’s and declares that the Iraq war is “largely about oil.” But what’s really bouncing Beltway eyebrows is the book’s language: it’s clear and comprehensible! This is the man who said, only half-kidding, “I’ve been able to string more words into fewer ideas than anybody I know.”
Greenspan didn’t invent the technique, of course. The ancient historian Livy described a rhetorician who would tell his students, “Darken it!” The Greek version, skotison, makes a fitting figure for academics and bureaucrats who swap obscurity for erudition. (The figure isn’t Figaro’s idea. He got it straight from Richard Lanham.)
Greenspan’s skotisonical mastery wasn’t such a bad thing. Speaking clearly could cause international markets to tumble; his impenetrable language gave people confidence that this high priest of monetary policy had a personal relationship with Mammon — solid proof that the rhetorical dark arts can be used for good.
Snappy Answer: To quote the immortal Homer, “No function beer well without.”