About This Site

Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
(What are figures of speech?)
Ask Figaro a question!

This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Thursday
    Aug252005

    When the Quoting Gets Tough, the Tough Get Quoting

    richardii.jpgQuote:   “I wasted time, and now time doth waste me.”  Shakespeare, Richard II, 5:5-49

    Figure of Speech:  chiasmus  (kee AZZ muss), the criss-cross figure

    Only Shakespeare will do for our all-time favorite figure, the chiasmus.  It’s Greek for the letter “X”, and for good reason:  the chiasmus contains two groups of words that mirror each other.  “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”

    Early rhetoricians believed that figures like the chiasmus had a psychotropic effect on audiences, triggering our instinctive love of expressive rhythm.  It worked for John F. Kennedy; when he told young people, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” thousands of them joined the Peace Corps.

    Snappy Answer:   “How long did it take you to think that up?”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    Wednesday
    Aug242005

    “I Only Said ‘Terminate With Extreme Prejudice’.”

    pat_robertson.jpgQuote: "I didn't say 'assassination'." Pat Robertson, Christian extremist and former presidential candidate, who urged the U.S. government to "take out" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

    Term: leptologia (lep toe LOH jee ah), argument by quibbling

    What would Jesus do? Robertson apparently thinks the Christ would send a squad of assassins over to Venezuela for a little wet work. "You know," Robertson said on the "700 Club," "I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." He added, "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

    Later, Robertson denied using the word "assassination" and said he'd been "misinterpreted." The rhetorical term for this denial is "lying." But he went on to explain that "take him out" could mean "any number of things, including kidnapping." So the denial also qualifies as a leptologia, which uses quibbling to distract the audience.

    Snappy Answer: "Why not? We should take out every loud-mouthed extremist."

    Got a snappier answer? Email Figaro.

    Tuesday
    Aug232005

    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.”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    Tuesday
    Aug232005

    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.”

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    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.