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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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    Saddam’s Fashion Atrocity


    Quote:  "Is his modest paean to the Flamingo a simple reflection of his hair-dyeing, gold-leaf-loving, frightful vanity?  Or has he decided to beat the 'occupiers' from within their own system?  Take it over, or mock it?"  Washington Post fashion article on Saddam Hussein's courtroom attire.

    Figure of Speechdialysis, (die AL ih sis), the either/or figure.

    Saddam has been showing up for his trial in natty suits, no tie, and a pocket square, bemusing Post fashion reporter Robin Givhan.  "Here was a man accused of ordering the execution of 148 people, accessorizing in the manner of a lounge act," she writes.

    In asking whether Saddam is making a political statement or a fashion statement, Givhan uses a dialysis -- a figure that offers a series of contrasting alternatives.

    The medical profession has been swiping figures for centuries.  Besides dialysis, doctors have plagiarized metastasis (a cancer leaping to other parts of the body), antistasis (something to do with veins), diaphora (a species of sucking lice), epitasis (easy bruising), metalepsis (one muscle causing another to fire), palilogia (obsessively repeating a word the patient has heard), and tasis (stretching?).  Got any more? Add a comment to this entry.

    Snappy Answer:  "It sends a message to the terrorists! Like Nancy Pelosi!"


    The Line Reforms Here

    mccainreform.jpgQuote:  "I want to reform education, reform Medicare and Social Security, reform lobbying and campaigns.  Reform immigration.  Reform.  Reform.  Reform."  Senator John McCain, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

    Figure of Speechpalilogia (pa lih LOW ja), the repeater.

    John "Reform" McCain, the reform candidate for president who wants to reform a party badly in need of reform, clearly stands for…  Sorry, even we're sick of the word.  McCain employs a palilogia (Greek for "recapitulation") to emphasize his point.  Or, rather, his brand.

    Snappy Answer:  "How about reforming political speech, starting with your own?"


    Fat Didn’t Suit Him (No Marvelously Witty Pun Intended)

    ryanreynolds.jpgQuote:  "One thing about that fat suit is it certainly sticks out, no pun intended."  New Line domestic marketing president Russell Schwartz talking to Slate about the new comedy film "Just Friends."

    Figure of Speechparalipsis (pa ra LIP sis), the no-pun-intended figure.

    New Line's ad campaign originally depicted co-star Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit.  Now it shows him as his old skinny self.  For PC reasons?  Nah.  Because the film isn't doing so hot, more like.

    Still, the studio's marketing honcho can’t pass up the opportunity to sound wittily sensitive about it, so he trots out a paralipsis.  The figure emphasizes a thought by claiming to pass over it:  "I will not stoop so low as to mention my opponent's affinity for lady’s undergarments or his sick habit of collecting Hummel figurines." Of course, Schwartz's unintended pun would have worked better had it actually been one.

    Snappy Answer:  "No pun taken."


    Snatching Iraq from the Jaws of Doves

    dovebombing.gifQuote:  "Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting off funding from our ally in 1975."  Melvin Laird, Nixon’s Defense Secretary, writing in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

    Figure of Speech:  hysteron proteron (HIS ter on PRO ter on), the word swap.

    Remember the Vietnam War?  The one that we were continually on the verge of winning until we lost it?  The one that was going to bring democracy to all of Southeast Asia?  And where most natives of both sides saw us as occupiers instead of liberators?

    Now we know why we lost it.  It was Congress's fault for yanking funding for the war after nine futile years.

    Laird uses the hysteron proteron, which reverses the ordinary word order of a sentence -- "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory -- in a not-so-subtle reference to Iraq.

    Snappy Answer:  "The jaws of victory were biting us in the butt."


    Attack of the Killer Lepidoptera

    ashtonkusher.jpgQuote:  "Butterfly Effect." Name given to chaos theory by MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the 1960s.

    Figure of Speech:  metalepsis (met ah LEP sis), the figure of remote cause.

    A butterfly flapping its wings in South America can change the weather in Central Park -- a phenomenon called "sensitive dependence on initial conditions," or the Butterfly Effect.  It's also an Ashton Kusher movie and the idea behind "Jurassic Park."

    But it's not an original idea.  Ancient rhetoricians made it a figure of speech: metalepsis (Greek for "substitution," unhelpfully).  Anything credited with a remote outcome counts as a metalepsis -- say, blaming Congressional Democrats for the war in Iraq.

    Snappy Answer:  "In politics, it's called the Neocon Effect."


    That Depends on Where the Meaning of “Lie” Lies

    bushism.jpgQuote:   "It is a lie to say that the president lied to the American people."  Dick Cheney, quoting John McCain in a speech to a conservative think tank.

    Figure of Speech:  polyptoton (poe LIP toe ton), the root repeater.

    The polyptoton (Greek for "multiple grammatical cases") repeats the root of a word while changing its ending -- "lie" to "lied," for instance.  Robert Frost used the figure when he said,  "Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."  (Thanks,  Richard Nordquist.)

    Snappy Answer:  "Is it misleading to say he misled them?"