A scorching restaurant review in The New York Times has the town all abuzz. Critic Pete Wells chews up celebrity chef Guy Fieri of the TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and spits him out. Note, dear Figarists, just how Wells spits Fieri. The writer uses one of the oldest, and cruelest, tools in rhetoric.
GUY FIERI, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square? Have you pulled up one of the 500 seats at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar and ordered a meal? Did you eat the food? Did it live up to your expectations?
Figure of Speech: prosopopoeia (pro-so-po-PEE-uh), the impersonator. From the Greek, meaning to “make a mask.”
The proposopopoeia was a classroom technique performed by ancient rhetoric students (part of the progymnasmata exercise, if you must know). They took on characters from history, or pretended that animals were people, or spoke to chairs, or—pay attention here, people—addressed characters who weren’t in the room. Out in the real world, orators loved to speak meanly to absent people, using the second-person voice. (“You,” not “He.”) The Greeks happily called this feat “vituperation.”
That’s what Pete Wells does here. He does vituperation with style. Instead of just talking about Fieri’s lousy restaurant behind the chef’s back, Wells talks to Fieri himself—behind his back. It sounds that much more accusatory, so much more, well, vituperative. In a speech, it can sound a bit melodramatic. But in a review, it comes off rare and juicy, with a whole lot of spice.