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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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    Tuesday
    Aug022005

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    Snappy Answer: "'One nation' and 'indivisible' seem a bit out of date, don't you think?"

    Monday
    Aug012005

    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?"
      Sunday
      Jul312005

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

      Mariah.jpgQuote:
      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?"
      Saturday
      Jul302005

      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.”

          Friday
          Jul292005

          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?"

          Thursday
          Jul282005

          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?"