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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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    Small People Are Tropical

    Figaro has been getting quite a bit of mail noting that the BP chairman’s “small people” gaffe constitutes a trope, not just a figure of speech. So what kind of trope is it, they ask?

    “Small people” is a metonymy, a trope that takes a part or characteristic of something and uses it to define the whole. Small people’s position in society is itty-bitty, a characteristic that’s used to define the people themselves.

    “The little guy,” on the other hand, is a synecdoche—one person used to describe a type or group of people. Of course, the “little” part of the guy is a metonymy as well…

    Whew. It’s getting tropical around here. In general, if you something isn’t literally true—the “small people” in America seem to get larger every day—then it’s probably either a trope or a lie.  And what are the other tropes? You’ve certainly heard of ‘em:  metaphor and irony.

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    Reader Comments (4)

    What's the difference between a figure of speech and a trope?
    June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
    A figure of speech constitutes unusual words, or words put in an unusual order. A trope, on the other hand, is the use of "non-literal" language, or words that have meaning beyond the literal.

    "The moon is a balloon." It's not, literally (unless you don't trust those government types at NASA). But it's not a lie, either, since the intent is to make the reader see the moon differently. Therefore it's a trope.

    But wait! "Moon" and "balloon" rhyme! That makes it a figure of speech as well.
    June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Is "tropical" really proper usage to refer to the use of tropes?
    June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto
    Yep. Both come from the Greek word "tropos," meaning "turn." The tropics are a part of the planet that turn to follow the sun. A heliotropic plant also turns to follow the sun. Tropes turn phrases to follow the speaker's brilliant meaning.
    June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

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