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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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    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.”


        Can I Have Instability Sprinkles with That?

        Quote:   “Cone of Instability.” Fox News military analyst and retired Major General Bob Scales, quoted in CJR Daily

        Figure of Speech: Catachresis (cat uh Kree sis), or Metaphor Gone Wild

        According to General Scales, "many people” use the label “Cone of Instability” to refer to those countries where the U.S. is sending military advisors in the battle against al Qaeda.  There’s nothing wrong with cool labels.  They help retired generals get on TV.  But when a label fails to mean anything, it turns into a metaphorical delinquent called the catachresis.  

        Wielding his video pen like John Madden on speed, the general drew this “cone” for Fox viewers.  We’re no Cone of instability.jpgmilitary  expert, but doesn't that look more like a Venn diagram than a cone?  Scales’s scribble seems to include every Moslem nation on the planet.

        And there’s the rub.  Muslims might get touchy if we start sending military to “advise” all of Islam.  But bringing peace and freedom to the Cone of Instability, well, who’s to argue with that?  Where you find a catachresis, a euphemism lurks nearby.

        Snappy Answer:   "Who uses 'Cone of Instability', General?  Maxwell Smart?"


        Corpses Come to Life! And Stimulate the Economy!

        lucille-ball.jpgQuote:  "In its latest 2005 Dead Q tallies, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and John Wayne top the list of the public’s favorite dead celebrities."  Article in adage.com.

        Term: Prosopopoeia (pro so po PEE uh), the dead-celeb technique

        In ancient Greece and Rome, students conducted regular exercises in which they imitated great historical characters to develop their oratorical skills.  The prosopopoeia was also one of the more popular oratorical techniques in ancient times. It’s trickier today.  Imitating John F. Kennedy doesn’t guarantee election, as John F. Kerry discovered. We’ve grown to love our dead celebrities more than our dead leaders. 

        What’s more, technological advances allow marketers to resurrect the deceased and give them a second life in the advertising industry.  The digital magic might startle ancient rhetoricians, but they’d be familiar with the theory behind it. Prosopopoeia falls under the rubric of Ethos, or argument by character. Advertisers transfer the Ethos, or character, of a popular guy onto the merchandise, and voila! An outdoor grill takes on the lovable persona of an aging prizefighter.

        Snappy Answer:  "Does a corpse make a soda taste better?"


        “Gimme five, Supreme Boy!”

        karl.jpgQuote: “Turd Blossom.” Nickname President Bush gave to consigliore/leaker Karl Rove, along with the more flattering but still condescending “Boy Wonder”

        Figure of Speech:  Tapinosis (tap in OH sis),  the nickname figure; also Meiosis (my OH sis), the shrinking figure

        The president’s use of nicknames displays his genial, what’s-there-not-to-like sense of humor.  And it contains a powerful underlying message:  I’m Leader of the Free World, and you’re not. When Bush calls Russian President Vladimir Putin "Pootie-Poot," communications chief Karen Hughes "Lima Green Bean," and California Senator Barbara Boxer "Ali" (get it?), he establishes a private, just-you-and-me-kid relationship while showing who’s the alpha male.

        Not all of Bush’s nicknames fall strictly under the tapinosis figure.  His playful moniker for Vice President Dick Cheney? "Big Time."  Eat your heart out, Boy Wonder.

        Snappy Answer:  Sorry.  There isn't any.  He's the President, and you're not.

        Figaro  (Call me  Mad Dog)

        Got a quote you’d like Figaro to figure? Email him or post a comment below.


        I'm, like, totally there!

        britney spears SMALL.jpgQuote:  “Hey, it’s Britney Spears. Can I just tell you, I had a blast at your party— seriously, your friends are really cool. Next time I have a party, you’re totally invited.”  Automated cell phone message recorded by Spears.  Subscribers who paid $19.95 for three months also got to hear Spears read their horoscopes.

        Figure of Speech:  Parelcon  (puh-REL-con), the "like" figure

        A parelcon adds a superfluous word such as “totally” or "like" to a sentence.  You could argue, though, that “totally” isn't superfluous at all.  It constitutes a figure of amplification, making Britney’s thousands of listeners know that she will absolutely positively invite them to her next theoretical party.

        Also anthypallage  (an thigh PAL uh gee), the "I'm there!" figure

        Anthypallage changes the tense of a sentence for emphasis. “When I have a party, you’re totally there.” Britney fans (excluding a few million middle-aged men with teen fantasies) often use this figure to lend immediacy to the recital of a conversation: “I go, ‘No way,’ and he’s, like, ‘Don’t you love me?’”

        Also Paradiastole  (pa ruh die ASS toh lee), the "But seriously, folks" figure

        Putting unlike things together—“seriously” and Britney Spears.

        Snappy Anwer:  "I'm a middle-aged man pretending to talk to Britney on my cell phone!"   (I mean, ick.)


        Got a quote you’d like Figaro to figure? Email him or post a comment below.