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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
    Aug122005

    Book: Billie Jean Not Jackson’s Lover

    michael-jackson.jpgQuote:  “They should be ashamed.  They’re the ones who let a pedophile go.”  Eleanor Cook, a juror who voted to acquit Michael Jackson and then wrote a book saying he was guilty.

    Term:  antirrhesis  (an ter REE sis), the “Oh, yeah?” argument

    Jackson jurors accuse Cook and another juror of cashing in on the Jackson case.  “They should be ashamed of themselves,” Susan Rentschler told the Reuters news agency.  Cook retaliated with an antirrhesis, a counter-argument that picks up an accuser’s rhetorical grenade and tosses it back. But Cook risks blowing herself up:  the vote to acquit was unanimous.

    Cook claims the foreman threatened to have her expelled from the jury unless she voted with the majority.  That's why she says she "caved."  Well, sure.  It would have killed the book deal!

    Snappy Answer:    “They all should have to sleep over at Neverland.”

     Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    Thursday
    Aug112005

    Plus He Kicked a Dog When He Was Ten

    roberts_ad.jpgQuote:  “America can’t afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.” Abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America, in a TV ad attacking Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

    Term:   “Straw man” fallacy.  Instead of dealing with the actual issue, find or make up something about your opponent that’s easy to attack.

    As an administration lawyer under the first Bush, Roberts argued that the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 doesn’t apply to anti-abortion protesters.  Naral says Roberts sided with “anti-choice extremists who use bombings and other forms of intimidation.” But the case had nothing to do with whether bombing clinics was a good thing.  Besides, Roberts was representing the views of his client, the president, not necessarily his own. 

    Dredging up a single case from more than a decade ago creates a “straw man.” It diverts attention from the central issue: Will Roberts make a good Supreme Court justice?

    Snappy Answer:   "Good thing Bush chose John Roberts, then!"

    Got a snappier answer?  Email Figaro.

    Wednesday
    Aug102005

    Now Explain Nipples for Men

    breastplate.jpgQuote: "I am hopeful that the scientific community will eventually admit the possibility of intelligent design, even if that acceptance is discreet and muted." Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, a leading proponent of the Intelligent Design theory

    Term: Ad ignorantiam (ad ig nor AHN tee ahm), the it's-not-disproved-so-it's-true fallacy

    How do you disprove a theory that won't name its origin? You can't. And so the Intelligent Design people commit a logical foul: the fallacy ad ignorantiam, which says that something is true if it hasn't been disproved.

    By re-branding creationism as "Intelligent Design," fundamentalist Christians inserted themselves into public debate. But the Intelligent Design crowd makes a difficult target. They don't have to defend their Designer in Chief, because they're careful not to mention Him.

    "Perhaps molecular machines appear to look designed because they really are designed," Behe says. By who? Steve Jobs?

    Snappy Answer: "Who's the Designer?"

    Tuesday
    Aug092005

    That’s fubar, imho

    slang.gif Quote:   “c|n>k – coffee through nose into keyboard” Translation of an Internet acronym by the Internet Dictionary & Translator, www.noslang.com

    Figure of Speech:    skotison (SKO tih son), the figure of ultimate darkness

    Skotison, which means “Darken it!” in ancient Greece, uses obscure language to seem profound, or to make the speaker feel part of an exclusive group.  People who can type 70 words per minute and have perfect control over the shift key nonetheless insist on using computer-cipher like “lol” (laugh out loud) and “imho” (in my humble opinion).  Why?  Because it makes them feel part of the computer “literate” tribe.

    Along comes the Internet Dictionary & Translator to save the rest of us.  Type in some jargon or acronym, and it will give you the English version.

    Snappy Answer:    "Something's wrong with your keyboard."   (Avoid using the word “skotison.”  That would be a skotison.)

    Monday
    Aug082005

    And Wait Till the Tea Leaves

    cuppatuna.gifQuote: When Detective Riggs was called to investigate the theft of a trainload of Native American fish broth concentrate bound for market, he solved the case almost immediately, being that the trail of clues led straight to the trainmaster, who had both the locomotive and the Hopi tuna tea. –Mitsy Rae of Danbury, Nebraska, a runner-up in the Bullwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.


    Figure of Speech:   paronomasia (par oh no MAY zha), the near-pun.

    A paronomasia isn’t a pun in the strictest sense.  A pun uses different meanings for the same word. (The hunter didn’t like buffalo, but moose was deer to him.)   A paronomasia is far more annoying, because it uses different words that are homonyms; they only sound alike.

    In ancient times and right up through Shakespeare’s era, people didn’t look down on wordplay.  A pun—and its country cousin, paronomasia—let the speaker sound two meanings at once, like a musician striking a chord, or like a really good yodeler.  (Wait: yodelers have always been annoying. Forget yodelers.)

    What's In It for You: Parents should spend less time correcting their kids’ grammar and turn mealtimes into language playgrounds.  When your kid whips out her paronomasia, try to laugh.

    Sunday
    Aug072005

    We Apologize in Advance for This Offensive Photo

    Cereal_Hot_10.4.jpgQuote: “There’s no way to apologize for such a sin.” San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou, in repsonse to an apology by radio host Larry Krueger.  The radio station suspended Krueger after he called the Giants “brain-dead Caribbean players hacking at slop nightly.”  Krueger also said of Alou:  “You have in Felipe a manager whose mind has turned to Cream of Wheat.”

    Figure of Speech:  indignatio (in dig NOT ee oh), the figure of scorn

    Felipe Alou could have told Krueger to stick a spoon in it.  Instead, Alou upped the ante and labeled the insult a “sin.”  Not just any sin, either—such a sin. Maybe a deadly one.  (We always forget which sin comes after lust.)

    Ordinarily, when you drag God into a debate, don’t look for a consensus.  An argument has to do with persuasion and public opinion, while religion is about faith and an omniscient authority.  But in this case, Krueger has a heavenly appeal.  At least one religion gets you out of a sin if you say you’re sorry and mean it.  It’s called Christianity.

    Snappy Answer:   "What do you suggest instead?  Hell?"

    Indignatio isn’t so much an expression of indignation as an attempt to make an audience see your adversary as a jerk.  When you use the figure, just make sure you don’t come off as a bigger jerk.