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    Permissible Pocket Picking

    Every Monday, we offer a label to stick on a phenomenon or issue. Today’s label: sneak-a-tax.

    For only 900 billion borrowed dollars, Congress gave American taxpayers a wonderful tax cut! The left made some noise about fat cats getting more than their fair share, but the argument didn’t get much traction. We Americans are a generous people and don’t like afflicting minorities, even of the jillionaire variety. Instead, opponents should look at the long term—not just the deficit but whether tax cuts even exist.

    Figaro’s advice to liberals:  Point out the hidden costs we pay when Republicans propose tax cuts. Cut back road maintenance, and car maintenance costs go up. Slash park budgets, and you get slapped with user fees. Your state legislature cuts aid to education, and parents suddenly bear an added burden for textbooks, sports and music. Sneak-a-tax! It’s like a tax…but sneaky!

    So how do you make a label like that? By familiarizing yourself with homonyms, words that sound the same but have different meanings. Homonyms mean “same name” in ancient Greek. They serve as the raw material of puns. “Tax” and “attacks” are homonyms (well, close enough for government work). So, to create “sneak-a-tax” out of the hidden costs of tax cuts:

    1. Say what you mean. This so-called tax cut is really just a sneaky way to disguise more taxes.
    2. List possible homonyms. What sounds like “tax”? Tacks, ax, acts, pax, attacks.
    3. Put the homonyms in phrases, whether they make sense or not in this context. Thumb tax (on the seat of power!), ax cutstax attacks.
    4.  Try your homonyms in context. There’s nothing sneaky about a thumb tax, or a tax attack. But a sneak tax attack yields…a sneak-a-tax!

    BTW: Why is Figaro offering advice to the Democrats and not the Republicans? Because he believes in special education.

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    Reader Comments (13)

    What is the difference between a pun and a homonym?
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
    Good question, Sarah. A homonym is a word that sounds the same as another word. A pun uses a homonym for its own nefarious ends, pretending that the homonym is the real deal.

    For instance, "tax" and "tacks" are homonyms. Until you swap one for the other, though, they're not puns. Now suppose your state legislature set a fine for hitchhiking. Some wag calls it a "thumb tax." The pun deliberately makes you think of one thing--thumb tacks--while meaning another.
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    So is a pun a kind of trope?
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick Winston
    Yes and no, Rick. A trope can be broadly defined as any use of non-literal language that isn't an outright lie. To the degree that a pun pretends to be one thing while saying another, it's a trope. But "thumb tax" doesn't pretend to be something you stick up on a wall; so in that sense the pun is just plain word play.
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    While I love "sneak-a-tax" (talk about declaring war on the middle class!), the label doesn't really get at the fairness issue. As Bernie Sanders points out, we've seen a vast shift of wealth toward the top one percent. You don't like Sanders' war metaphor. But can you do better to label the shameful inequality of current tax policy?
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Edwards
    Several blog posts ago, I suggested calling the super-rich the "vampire class." In general, though, equality doesn't make for good labels. Most Americans want equality to come from God or the proverbial "level playing field." Better to focus on what's happening to the individual taxpayer's money.
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    We have an infamous example of tax cuts just to our south, Colorado Springs. As a result of their tax policies, parks aren't being watered, the kiss of death in semi-arid Colorado, police are being laid off with an attendant increase in crime, firemen are being laid off and streets and public facilities outside of the immediate, representative downtown district are falling into disrepair. If I were a rich man, I'd have a bunch of signs made up stating, "Your Tax Cuts At Work", and plant one in front of every pothole, every dried-up park and every closed swimming pool and give a T-shirt to every laid-off city worker with the same mantra printed boldly.

    Now, Figaro, do you think you could help a few of our Congress-critters with a bit of messaging?
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNosybear
    If I were a rich man, I'd have a bunch of signs made up stating, "Your Tax Cuts At Work", and plant one in front of every pothole, every dried-up park and every closed swimming pool and give a T-shirt to every laid-off city worker with the same mantra printed boldly.
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTorrent Download
    Love it!
    December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    "I want to say one thing about the budget that didn’t get passed, the omnibus bill. You know, we talk a lot about – we just passed this huge tax cut in part because business said, you know, we have to plan, we have to know what kind of tax cuts we have." - Nina Totenberg, NPR

    Beware of liberals bearing faulty rhetoric. No NEW tax cut was just passed by Congress. They agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years. Congress maintained the status quo of the existing tax rates. They did not lower the tax rates. Ms. Totenberg should know better.

    Similarly, the extension of the tax cuts did not contribute to the federal deficit. There was no money in the Treasury that was suddenly paid out by a NEW tax cut. If Congress was planning on more revenue by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, and then did not revise their projections after the Bush tax cuts were extended, that would contribute to the deficit.
    December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMallard
    In reference to your above explanation regarding pun and homonym:

    "Your audience also has to consider you a good person who wants to do the right thing and will not use them for your own nefarious purposes." (page 56, TYFA)

    I like the word "nefarious," too.
    December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Matluck
    Of course, we're talking about puns' nefarious ends, not yours, Mark. Isn't that a great word, though? It's so dastardly.
    December 23, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro

    Sounds more like a slip-up to me. Anyone whose spent time on YouTube know that newreaders do this a lot.

    Keep f*(%ing that chicken,
    December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

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