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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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    Of All the Figures in All the Gin Joints …

    casablanca.jpgQuote:   “A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…” “As Time Goes By,” from the movie “Casablanca”

    Figure of Speech:   ploce (PLO see), the braided figure

    You must remember this: the ploce (Greek for “plait”) changes meanings by repeating words and weaving other words between. In this case, Sam, the piano player in Rick’s gin joint, uses a ploce to diminish a kiss and a sigh.

    Snappy Answer:   “Play it, Sam.”

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    Negative Sunnis Are Not Very Positive

    Iraq_flag_large.pngQuote:   “If the Sunnis do not support the constitution, that would be very negative.”  American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad

    Figure of Speech:   tautology (taw TAH low gee), the redundant figure

    “Negative” means “bad” in diplomatese.  If the Sunnis say no to the draft Iraq constitution, that would certainly be negative.  But since “no” and “negative” mean the same thing, the ambassador commits a tautology—repeating the same thought in different words. 

    “Free gift.”  “New innovation.”  “Violent battle.”  All around, we’re surrounded by tautologies.  (Sorry.)  Yogi Berra turned the figure into an unconscious art form:  “You can learn a lot just by observing.”  Most of the time, though, the tautology is a pair of twins (whoops!) who are too close for comfort.

    The writing on the Iraqi flag, by the way, means “God is great.”  Which, arguably, qualifies as a tautology.

    Snappy Answer:   “And if we don’t pull out of Iraq, we’ll still be there.”

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    Uncle Sparky's Cabin

    peta5.jpgQuote: “Just as it was always wrong to oppress and abuse less powerful humans, it is wrong to abuse and oppress animals.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a new “Animal Liberation” promotion

    Figure of Speech:   non sequitor, the stray argument

    Sure it’s wrong to abuse animals, unless you count Johnny Knoxville as an animal.  But to equate “animal oppression” with slavery, as PETA does, constitutes a non sequitor:  while each part of the argument can be true, the one doesn’t support the other.  PETA’s side-by-side photos of lynched African-Americans and animal carcasses won’t convert many meat-eaters, but persuasion isn’t the only reason for a rhetorical argument.  Moving the already-decided to action is another.  

    Figaro loves animals himself.  Even as he writes, he has one lying painlessly on the Weber grill.

    Snappy Answer:  “Humans don’t make me hungry.”

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    We’ll Make You an Intern if You Wear a Thong

    clinton.gifQuote: "I think if there were a president in my party again, no matter who it was, and I was asked to do anything, I would do it. Anything!" Bill Clinton, in an interview with New York magazine

    Figure of Speech: optatio (op TOT ee oh), exclamation of desire

    America's neediest ex-president wants something—anything—to do, so he expresses it in one of the more debasing figures, the optatio (from the Latin optare, to desire). Earnestly expressing a wish can throw you at the mercy of political opponents; it's far better to make yourself aloofly available.

    But then, we already knew that Bill's available. God, is he available.

    Snappy Answer: "What do you mean, 'If?'"

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    “He Had Suckled at My…Uh, This Is Off the Record.”

    TrentLott.jpgQuote: "Frist's actions amounted to a 'personal betrayal.' I had taken him under my wing." Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, complaining about his successor in a newly published memoir.

    Figure of Speech: mempsis (MEMP sis), the figure of reproach

    After 36 years on Capitol Hill, now Trent Lott discovers that politics can be nasty. After he made a few racist remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, Bill Frist snatched the majority-leader gig right out from under him. Lott's lament qualifies as a mempsis, a figure that figures most famously in the Book of Job.

    Will kvetching sell books? It worked for Job.

    Snappy Answer: "That'll teach you to trust a politician."

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    The "P" Is Suing for Abandonment

    daddy-puff5.jpgQuote: "During concerts, half the crowd is saying 'P. Diddy', half the crowd is chanting 'Diddy'—now everybody can just chant 'Diddy.'" Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who has shortened his stage name to "Diddy."

    Figure of Speech: Symploce (SIM plo see), the first-and-last repeater

    Never mind that Mr. Diddy called a press conference to announce the retirement of a single letter. By repeating the first and last words of consecutive clauses, he pulls off a perfectly rhythmic symploce. (It means "intertwining" in Greek.) He splits an imaginary audience in two and joins them in a third clause. And he slows the rhythm at the end with three monosyllabic words: "can, just, chant, Diddy."

    If more white people could talk like that, the world would be a better place.

    Snappy Answer (in the tradition of Beavis and Butthead): "Now you won't worry about your 'P' onstage."