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    Mrs. Figaro Rocks the Marriage Boat!

    Figaro’s wife, Mrs. Figaro, put this author in a terrible bind. Writing a question on Ask Figaro, she clearly wanted her husband to excoriate a certain pudgy commentator for lying about a historical document. Instead, Figaro found him innocent! Can this literal marriage be figuratively saved?

    Dear Fig.,

    Is a lie a figure of speech as Stephanie Mencimer implies in her piece for Rolling Stone?


    Mrs. Fig.

    Dear Mrs. Fig.,

    It’s so nice to exchange sweet nothings over a public website. In this case you refer to Glenn Beck’s claim that he “held the first inaugural address written in his own hand by George Washington.”

    The National Archives promptly replied that no one, not even a Constitution-adoring patriot, is permitted to touch the sacred documents. Glenn Beck most certainly did not make physical contact with Washington’s first inaugural address.

    But does his claim constitute a lie? According to Figaro’s Oxford English Dictionary, to “behold” an object implies that one is holding that object in one’s eye.  This is a definite trope—a metonymy, to be exact.

    Therefore, Figaro declares Mr. Beck’s little stretcher to be figurative (or, more accurately, tropical) and not a literal lie.

    On the other hand, if Mrs. Figaro plans to take this conclusion badly, we declare Mr. Beck to be a lying two-faced bastard.

    All our love,


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    Reader Comments (28)

    So dressing Beck up as Hitler and making fun of him in your blog isn't enough for the woman?
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIgor
    Mrs. Fig. is a tolerant, patient (not to mention beautiful and perceptive) woman. We are fully confident that she will read our answer with an open mind.

    She's also intelligent, witty, sophisticated, and has an excellent sense of humor, and she knows the importance of maintaining a happy but honest relationship, despite what Figaro writes in his blog.

    So he's not worried. Not at all.

    And she's very good at her job. And Figaro loves her laugh, especially her tolerant one.

    So, yes, we're very confident about her positive response. Very, very..
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    LOL. I love the way you write about her in "Thank You for Arguing." She's a lucky woman, Fig!
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRaquela
    Except Beck really is lying, correct? He'll make up anything for the sake of his ratings.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Harrison
    To distinguish between a trope and lie, you have to look at intent. Was he attempting to mislead the audience or bring vividness--ENARGEIA in rhetoric--to a story?

    It's like Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting," when he tells his shrink (Robin Williams) a joke that takes place on an airplane. Matt tells the joke as if he was there. When Williams notes that young Will has never been on a plane, he replies that the joke is better told in the first person. That's enargeia.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    On the other hand, Matt Damon is telling an obvious fiction, while Beck is claiming to describe an actual event.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Harrison
    It's true that someone who embellishes stories the way Beck does could hurt his ethos--his audience's view of his trustworthiness. But in our tribal age, the Beck haters hate him regardless of what he says; and his supporters say he tells the "truth" regardless of the facts at hand.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Can a trope deliberately mislead without being a literal lie?
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
    Yes, indeed, Paul. Tropes are non-literal language. Like any rhetorical tool, they can be put to nefarious uses. Take the synecdoche of "Main Street," for instance. It calls to mind in the American public a quaint, small-town condition that exists in few places outside of Disney. Sarah Palin speaks of being a "Mainstreeter" as if she represents a reality shared by most Americans. While not a lie, it's a misleading use of a trope.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    So if Mrs. Fig. divorces you, will you marry me?
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSophia
    Figaro is flattered to be proposed to by a woman whose name means "wisdom." But when he made his marriage vow, he wasn't lying or being tropical. In order to rid him from her life, Mrs. Figaro would have to kill him.

    Despite his many faults, Figaro works hard to discourage this prospect.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    You call your wife a babe in your book. That had to earn you some points.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKairoticism
    Actually, it embarrassed her. Advice to future authors: never call your spouse a "babe."
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Signing your blog post "All our love" implies that Mrs. Fig is a bigamist.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
    We apply the liberal if inconsistent usage of the editorial "we." We are one person, albeit with multiple identities.

    And by "liberal usage" we mean "frequent use," not "left-wing abuse."
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Speaking of multiple identities, why call yourself Figaro? Am I missing something?
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudith
    Figaro's last name is "Speech." He wanted to address his website "figuresofspeech.com", but it was taken. Hence FigaroSpeech, which is how Figaro was born.

    A very moving nativity story, no?
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    But he said held, not BEheld.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrocky
    Maybe I didn't make that sufficiently clear. The word "beheld" is a trope that implies that the object is held one one's eye. So the trope--the notion of "holding" something in the eye--already exists in the cultural mindset. To claim to "hold" something can mean the same as "behold."
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    You're letting Beck off too easily. I doubt the man reads the OED.
    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJane

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