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.


    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.


    "I'm Not Going to Say It, But I Will"

    lance-small.jpgQuote: "An individual can never dictate their legacy. That's not my job. It doesn't matter. Whatever the people decide it is, it is. I'm a kid from Texas that learned how to ride a bike fast and overcame a life-threatening illness to come back and win the hardest sporting event in the world seven times. So I'll let the other people write on the tombstone."—Lance Armstrong, after winning his seventh and last Tour de France

    Figure of Speech: apophasis (a-PAH-fa-sis)

    Apophasis means “denial” in ancient Greek. You deny what you actually mean.  It’s not my job to dictate my legacy, says Lance, and in the same richly oxygenated breath, he dictates his legacy.  

    The reigning masters of apophasis are the politicians who say, “I’m no politician.”  Not that I have anything against politicians, those lying, thieving bastards.

    Snappy Answer:  "Uh, Lance, didn't you just write your tombstone?"


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

    Page 1 ... 105 106 107 108 109