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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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    The White House Says More Research Is Needed

    chickenlittle_1.jpgQuote:  "This time, the sky really is falling." Ad for the movie "Chicken Little."

    Figure of Speechparaenesis (pah RAY nuh sis), the Chicken Little figure.

    The paraenesis (Greek for "exhortation") warns of impending doom.  It's the favored figure of fundamentalists, global warmists, virologists, and the Attorney General.

    Why do you need to know its name?  So that you can say to a pessimist, "Don't be such a paraenesist."  Terms like this offer endless ways to annoy people.

    Snappy Answer:  "Quick! Renew the Patriot Act!"


    Happy Holidays? I’ll Show You Happy Holidays.

    santamissile.jpgQuote:  "This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture."  William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in the Washington Post.

    Figure of Speechbathos, the unintentionally hilarious emotional appeal.

    What evil has the White House perpetrated?  Its Christmas card refers to the "holidays" instead of Christmas.  The Christian right hasn't been this apoplectic since, oh, last month.

    The president did include a passage from Psalm 28.  Not good enough, says Donohue.  That's the Old Testament (you know, the one the Jews wrote).  You would think the guy would like the psalm anyway. "Because they regard not the works of the Lord," it reads in part, "he shall destroy them, and not build them up."

    Just like Iraq!

    Snappy Answer:  "Protect us Christians from the bad elements. Let’s arm Santa!"


    This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You

    condinatrix.jpgQuote:  "It is also U.S. policy that authorized interrogation will be consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment."  Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice.

    Figure of SpeechEquivocation (e quiv o CAY shon), the speech mask.

    Rice is a terrific diplomat, but her European trip put her in a bind.  How could she deny the American torture policy even while Bush was threatening to veto a bill that would prevent torture?

    The answer:  equivocate.  Say what your audience wants to hear, but in language that disguises your true intentions.  The White House interpreted its "obligations" to apply only on American soil.  Torture was okay everywhere else.  So Rice’s words meant the opposite of how they sounded.

    But equivocation didn't work this time.  Today, under intense pressure from Europeans and Congress, the administration backed down and agreed to follow the international Convention Against Torture -- internationally.

    Snappy Answer:  "Now define 'cruel,' 'inhumane' and 'degrading.'"


    Soon to Gross Out Extraterrestrials

    sternsat.gifQuote:  "He doesn't want you to act mad; he wants you to be mad." Howard Stern's producer, Gary Dell'Abate, quoted in New York Magazine.

    Figure of Speechantithesis (an TIH the sis), the figure of contrasting ideas.

    Howard Stern is heading to satellite radio.  Is he worth the $100 million Sirius will pay him?  Sure he is.  This man keeps it real.  His adenoidal, hormonally challenged audience -- a high proportion of emotionally retarded American males -- wants it real.  His producer uses an antithesis to reveal what Howard wants in his guests:  really real anger.

    But not the strippers he has on his show.  They don't have to be all real.

    Snappy Answer:  "I don't want Howard off the airwaves; I want him off the planet."


    You Put the Right Wing In, You Put the Left Wing Out…

    hokeypokey.jpgQuote:  "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." George W. Bush, in a speech to American troops in South Korea.

    Figure of speechparomoiosis (pa ro moy OH sis), the side-by-side figure.

    The president uses a figure so elegant that we’re loath to make fun of it. His paromoiosis (Greek for "assimilation") creates parallel sounds between two clauses of equal size.  It makes for a neat antithesis, the us-or-them, right-or-wrong kind of argument that Bush especially favors.

    One question, though:  Did Bush leave out "the" before "Iraqis" for the sake of rhythm?  Or is he revealing something about Iraq’s state of unity?

    Snappy Answer:  "You mean, as Iraq blows up, we’ll blow out."


    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!"