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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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    Suffer the Little Stem Cells

    god billboard.gifQuote: "It isn't just a matter of faith. It's a matter of science.” Senate majority leader and early-out-of-the-gate presidential aspirant Bill Frist, arguing for federal funding for stem-cell research

    Figure of Speech: Syncrisis (SIN crih sis), the not-that-but-this figure

    Pity the politician who has to balance faith and politics. Talk about strange bedfellows (not to imply that Senator Frist believes in bedfellows, God forbid). When Frist tried combining faith, medicine and politics for a brain-dead woman, the results were awkward. So what do you do when three quarters of The People want to use stem cells, and crucial supporters don't? Bring out the syncrisis! A figure of speech that compares or contrasts, it's most useful in defining an issue.

    If we were Frist, we'd avoid playing golf in a thunderstorm.

    Snappy Answer: "So which wins, Senator? Faith or science?"


    “Popular Will?” Isn’t That a LIBERAL Term?

    john roberts.jpgQuote: "Not only are unelected jurists with life tenure less attuned to the popular will than regularly elected officials, but judicial policy making is also inevitably inadequate or imperfect policy making." John Roberts, responding to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire

    Term: Dirimens copulatio (DIH ri mens cop u LAT ee oh), the but-wait-there's-more figure

    John Robert is the Wonder Bread nominee. Boring haircut. Boring record, race, gender and ethnicity. Good thing we have rhetoric to rescue us from the tedium. While the Democrats can't find a single interesting fetish in the man, we can cry dirimens copulatio. That's Latin for "a joining together that interrupts," according to Richard Lanham.

    We thought that defined coitus interruptus, a birth-control method practiced by Catholic Supreme Court nominees. But we never quibble with the Strunk & White of rhetoric.

    Snappy Answer: "You just did a Dirimens copulatio. It makes me hot."


    "One Nation Under God (Except for the Blue States)"

    flag shirt.jpgQuote: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible…"

    Figure of Speech: Parenthesis (puh REN the sis), the by-the-way figure

    Parenthesis means "insertion" in Greek. It lets you insert a thought within a thought. The Pledge of Allegiance contains a literal parenthesis: Congress inserted "under God" in 1954, 57 years after a socialist(!) minister wrote the Pledge.

    Advocacy groups want to insert more parentheses. Some pro-lifers want the Pledge to end "with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn." Personally, we’d like "liberty and justice for all, except people who drive while talking on their cell phones."

    Snappy Answer: "'One nation' and 'indivisible' seem a bit out of date, don't you think?"


    If Bill Had Great Interns, Then Hillary...

    hilary clinton.jpgQuote:  “Britain, where there remains far more overt sexism in public life, made Margaret Thatcher prime minister more than two decades ago.” Article in Slate, "But Why Can't Hillary Win?"

    Term:  a fortiori (ah for tee AR ee), the Mikey-likes-it! argument

    Remember the commercial for Life Cereal, the one where the brothers experiment on picky little Mikey?  If Mikey liked it, the boys figured, anyone would.  That's an argument a fortiori:  If something less likely is true, then something more likely will probably be true as well.

    Margaret Thatcher plays Mikey in Jacob Weisberg’s assertion in Slate that Hillary Clinton has a good shot at the White House.  Hey, Weisberg argues, if those soccer hooligans across the pond can elect a woman, surely our more advanced civilization can. 

      Snappy Answers:  

      1. "Who says those Limey fruits are more sexist than we are?"
      2. "Are you sure Maggie Thatcher was a woman?"

      Five Reasons We Belong Together: Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ooh

      The feeling that I'm feeling/Now that I don't hear your voice/Or have your touch and kiss your lips/Cause I don't have a choice/Oh, what I wouldn't give/To have you lying by my side/Right here, cause baby/(We belong together)
      Excerpt from Mariah Carey’s song, “We Belong Together,” No. 1 on the Top 40 charts.

      Term:  Exuscitatio (ex us ih TA tee oh), the feel-what-I’m-feeling appeal.

      At first it looks as if Mariah woos her ex by making him feel as terrible as she does.  But the moaning in the background (“Ooh, ooh, sweet love, yeah”) tells us another form of persuasion is going on here.  She wants him to feel as randy as she does.  In another words, she’s trying to seduce him.

      Will it work? We hope so. Seduction is our favorite kind of argument, especially when we’re on the receiving end. Go ahead Baby, do it to me.  Ooh, are you feeling it like I’m feeling it?

      Snappy Answer:  "So what would you give to have me lie by your side?"

      Yogiisms Don't Make Sense Till You Get Them

      Quote: "I never knew Spider Man could get hurt, but he usually heals fast." Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii “Spider Man” Hunter, who injured his ankle in a game against the Boston Red Sox.

      yogiberra.gifFigure of Speech:   Yogiism (YOGE ee ism), the idiot savant figure (also spelled yogism)

      What is it about baseball and illogic? Take Yogi Berra, the ageless manager and guru of contradictory wisdom.   Every baseball writer can recite half a dozen yogiisms:

        1. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
        2. “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
        3. “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
        4. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
        5. “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”
        6. “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
          Why isn’t there an ancient Greek name for this figure? Well, when Yogi said, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humility,” he used an acyrologia (a-keer-o-LO-gia), or a humorously misapplied word.  (Most of us would call it a malapropism.)  But the ancients were too snobbish about “proper” speech and logic to appreciate the delights of the pretzel-twisted sentence.  We hopelessly illogical moderns know better.

          Snappy Answer:  "Who you talking about, Torii?  Yourself, a cartoon character, or both?"

          Advice to politicians - Always quote the great Yogi himself:  “I didn’t really say everything I said.”