The latest question from Ask Figaro:
General Petraeus…General Betray-us. What think ye of this as a declaration and is it a form of argument?
Dear Geode-like One,
“Betray Us” constitutes a figure of speech called paronomasia, a near-pun. It plays on words that sound or mean the same but aren’t identical. The paronomasia is great for labeling an opponent, provided that your opponent is under the age of six. In the context of the most talented general to come along in a decade, the figure — used in a New York Times ad by the group MoveOn.org — comes off as clumsy and, dare we say it, illiberal…. [more]
In the comments to this posting, Mark asked a question that made Figaro think a little harder about that cruel-play-on-somebody’s-name thing. I’ll stand by my paronomasia, but you might better call it an ADNOMINATIO. See the “Ask Figaro” section for details.
The wise Figarist might ask: Who cares? What’s interesting to us isn’t the name of these techniques, necessarily, but the techniques themselves. Figures show us a delightful variety of ways to ruin someone’s self-esteem and make people associate him with an embarrassing or evil attribute. You can find words that sound like the person’s name, or play off the literal meaning of the term (“Bush” is a fine example), or assign a new, belittling name, or assign an opposite name that only highlights their flaw (calling a bald Stooge “Curly”), or use a descriptive phrase instead of the proper noun (“She Who Must Be Obeyed,” “He Who Must Not Be Named”), and so on and so on.
It’s a big, beautiful, humiliating figurative world out there.