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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
    Aug062013

    Now with 30% More Persuasion!

    The new improved edition of Thank You for Arguing published today! Thanks to the many dedicated Figarists, the original version has become the bestselling rhetoric book of all time. So what’s in the new version?

    New material on modern identity rhetoric, including a device called a “halo” that attaches your choice to the audience’s best sense of self.

    Advice on screwing up—and why apologies are overrated.

    A new chapter on Obama’s oratory.

    A big section called Argument Lab, which lets you practice your argument skills. There’s an online version here. Let me know what you think.

    Finally, a bunch of corrections, improved explanations, and updated pop culture references. Homer Simpson stays, though.

    Homer always stays.

    Wednesday
    Jul242013

    What Anthony Weiner Can Teach Us (Really)

    Thanks to stupitityiscontagious.com for the image.

    Presumably you haven’t been a serial sexter, and you’re not running for mayor of New York. You haven’t quit your job as a member of Congress, apologized to your wife, gone through therapy, resumed sexting, and then restarted your political career. If you had done all those things and asked me, an expert on screwing up, what to do…

    I’d tell you to quit. Quit right now. Find a shrink who will coauthor a book on sexual addiction.

    But wait. You’re not quitting just yet? Then here’s what I’d tell you. (You’ll find more detailed advice in new edition of my book, Thank You for Arguing.) It applies directly to any kind of public mistake, as well as most private ones.

    1. Set your goals.

     Our first instinct in a screw-up is to get defensive—or, in Weiner’s miserable case, to cover up until it’s too late. But in many cases, a mistake can actually become an opportunity to improve your reputation. It’s a chance to talk about your values. I’d tell Weiner to describe himself as a man who has applied great discipline to his public life, and that drive has opened cracks in his private life. He now knows that therapy isn’t enough. He must apply that same self-control to every part of his life.

    2. Be first with the news.

    Every PR person will tell you this, for good reason. Get all the news out. All of it. And put it in a personal context. “I have made this mistake, and I made it again. Here are the sordid details. I am revealing everything so that you know how I violated my own code, and so that I can explain how I’m working to keep it from happening again.” The latest news about Weiner didn’t come from Weiner. Shame on him—literally. 

    3. Pivot to the future.

    Weiner should have given a solid reason for staying in the race, and that reason should be New York’s future. He should paint a stirring picture of a bright and shining city, and add that that future is too important to abandon to his mistakes. Part of that future, of course, needs to offer convincing proof that those mistakes won’t happen again. Maybe his wife will agree to screen all his private emails. In any case, the real future is New York, with Weiner leading the way.

    4. Enhance your ethos.

    That’s what rhetoricians call character, the leader’s projected image. Ultimately screw-ups are all about ethos. Your job, rhetorically speaking is not just to recover your reputation but to enhance it. To come out with a better, shinier, more trustworthy and likable image than you had before the scandal. Look at Obama after the Jeremiah Wright incident, or—to go way back—Richard Nixon during the Checkers affair.

    My advice has helped numerous corporate clients and individuals. Would it save Weiner? Frankly, I doubt it. Screw up once, shame on you, but we can get past it. Screw up twice—the same sordid screw-up—and, well, you might get a book deal.

     

     

    Friday
    May312013

    We Suppose "Le Slurpe" Was Taken

    For centuries the French have been kissing for without talking, but now they have to get all, like, oral. The Petit Robert dictionary (pronounced like Colbert’s first name) contains the verb galocher, meaning “to kiss with tongues.”

    The term comes from la galoche, an ice skating boot. Only the French could look at galoshes and think of sex. But apparently they were thinking about skating as well—you know, gliding tongues and all that.

    Philosophers of language say that all words are analogies, templates that connect us to reality. To a linguist, a kiss isn’t just a kiss. It’s also a figures competition.

    Sunday
    May262013

    Nerdy Dancing as Decorum

    One of the trickiest ways to practice the leaderly art of rhetoric is decorum, the practice of fitting in with an audience. Why’s it tricky? Because if you aren’t a member of the tribe, you don’t want to fit in exactly. Instead, you want to portray an audience’s most favorable sense of you.

    Huh?

    Well, watch this video. Instead of trying hip hop moves for a student audience, this teacher practices a nerdy form of Irish dancing.

     

    Tuesday
    May072013

    Should We "Invite" Instead of Manipulate?

    Kay Halasek, a professor at Ohio State, interviewed me for a writing MOOC (massive open online course). The main topic, besides rhetoric itself:  Is manipulation a good thing? 

    Wednesday
    Mar272013

    What if SCOTUS Sounded Like Americans?

    Decorum doesn’t mean using the right fork—unless your audience cares deeply about using the right fork. So what if the Supreme Court justices were plunked down in average America and forced to speak decorously?

    See this Onion piece. It will forever change your notion of decorum.