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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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    Friday
    Aug192005

    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.”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    Friday
    Aug192005

    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?'"

    Got a snappier answer? Email Figaro.

    Thursday
    Aug182005

    “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."

    Got a snappier answer? Email Figaro.

    Wednesday
    Aug172005

    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."

    Tuesday
    Aug162005

    Can’t She Just Give Bush Some Money?

    cindy_s.jpgQuote:   “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?”  Sign held by Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq, while the president’s motorcade drove to a Republican fundraiser in Crawford, Texas

    Figure of Speech:   alloiosis (al oy OH sis), the this-isn’t-that figure

    Sheehan’s alloiosis (Greek for “difference”) gives the president two rotten choices:  Meet with her and legitimize her anti-war protest, or admit defeat and cancel the fundraiser.  Her figure is a form of antithesis, weighing opposites.  Bush himself favors this kind of black-or-white argument, because it makes subtler forms of reasoning look immoral.

    Snappy Answer:  None.  Sorry, Mr. President, for once you can’t win with an antithesis.  Express  your sympathies and hope the woman leaves.  You could fly back to Washington.  But our soldiers depend on a Commander in Chief who can vacation without flinching.

    Sunday
    Aug142005

    Eat Right, Be a Stick Figure

    food_pyramid.gifQuote:   “We needed a symbol that maintained that 80 percent high recognition, that was motivational and conveyed some general messages.” Eric Hentges, the Agriculture Department official responsible for the new food pyramid.

    Terms:   Ethos, Pathos, Logos—the three basic forms of persuasion

    Are you as excited about the new food pyramid as we are? It cost $2.4 million to design and has rainbow colors, a stick figure, plus a staircase that means…something. They kept the pyramid because it’s recognizable, even though it no longer represents anything.  That’s using Ethos, the “character” part of persuasion.  We’re more likely to trust a brand we recognize.

    The little stick man gets our heart rate up just looking at him.  (Pathos, or argument by emotion).  Then there are the “general messages”—that’s Logos, rhetoric's rational side.  The main message seems to be a website, www.mypyramid.gov, where you can learn what the hell all this means.

    Snappy Answer:     “Two and a half million dollars could buy 860,000 Big Macs.”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.