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    The Russian Doll Figure

    We recently introduced Mr. Potatohead. Now meet his decorous cousin, Russian Doll.  Another way to catalog, this figure wraps your items up in an irresistible description. Winston Churchill, that world-class master of figuring, did this at the beginning of the Second World War, referring to Russia.  

    It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery

    inside an enigma. 

    Notice how Churchill uses the Russian nesting doll as a metaphor to illustrate the whole nation. But it works even when you’re not playing metaphorically with dolls. Here’s Emily Yoffee in Slate.com:

    Many countries collectively agree…that children are a tantrum wrapped in a diaper and not worth the trouble.

    We call this the Russian Doll for obvious reasons. To deploy the figure, it helps to have an object with some sort of covering. A diaper serves as a natural covering for babies. But your wrapping doesn’t have to be cloth. You might have your victim cover himself. 

    The principal is a rulebook wrapped in pomposity inside a whole lot of bad skin. 

    If you happen to be an actual student, please don’t try that particular example; it’s for demonstration uses only. But you can see that any object or person with a distinctive outer layer can make for a great Russian Doll. Suppose you wanted to say something memorable about the fire hazard of a Christmas tree. You can convert it into a comparable object, cover it with something, wrap it with something else, and deliver a good scare. 

    A Christmas tree is an incendiary bomb covered in needles and wrapped in electric bulbs.

    You just can’t beat an incendiary bomb for newsworthiness, and a rhetorical incendiary bomb does the job without harming a soul. Figures don’t get better than that.

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    Reader Comments (3)

    A cup of coffee is a caffeinated third-degree burn cloaked in a pleasant aroma.
    June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMN
    Now I can't stop thinking about double metaphors. It's like a wad a cash inside a fortune cookie. Or a microphone for public speaking wrapped inside a lady's purse.
    June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy
    MN, you nailed it! Dorothy, those are head-snapping double-metaphors, but I wouldn't qualify them as Russian Dolls. The packaging itself must be natural; coffee does come with a pleasant aroma, while I've never met a wad of cash in a fortune cookie. More's the pity.
    June 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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