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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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    They Just Want to Decrease the Surplus Population

    Scrooge2.jpgQuote:  "I don't know what the poor, the elderly, the disabled, or our foster children have done to Republicans to deserve this… just a few days before Christmas." Congressman Charles Rangel

    Figure of Speechaporia, the figure of doubt.

    The Scrooges in Congress snuck back to their districts after passing a nasty budget package in the wee hours.  They saved a half of one percent of federal spending by slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and student loans while keeping subsidies for drug companies.

    Rangel uses an aporia (Greek for "at a loss"), a figure of real or pretended doubt.  In his case, we suppose it's pretended.

    Snappy Answer:  "The Republicans have nothing against the poor.  They're just clearing the way for more tax cuts."

    Hurt Me Baby. Make Me Write Bad Bills.

    dragcredo.jpgQuote:  "This hurts me?  Hurt me like this all day long.  Hurt me.  Hurt me.  That kind of shit doesn't hurt me."  Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, quoted in the Rocky Mountain News.

    Figure of Speechpalilogia (pal ih LOW ja), the repeater.

    The palilogia repeats words for emphasis—sometimes over and over and over and over again.  It's one of the crudest of the figures.  So you can understand why it's so common in politics today. Really common.  Really, really common.

    Snappy Answer:  "Then how about if I just hit you with this stick?"


    Except You. You’re Wrong.

    signsok.jpgQuote:  "Everyone is right: isn't that always the way in America?" David Thomson, reviewing Jerry Lewis's new memoir in the New Republic Online

    Figure of Speecherotesis (air oh TEE sis), the rhetorical question.

    America is the land of inconsistency and the home of contradiction.  Or it used to be, before we got all judgmental on each other.

    The erotesis (Greek for "question") may be the most common figure of all, and not just because it's easy to use.  (You, like, just put a question mark? After a sentence?).  It's also extraordinarily effective.  Unless a listener stays alert, he unconsciously answers the rhetorical question the way the speaker wants him to.

    (I've got another great erotesis on the Homerisms page.)

    Snappy Answer:  "To quote Tom DeLay,  ‘That's just wrong.'"


    Rhetoric of Mass Destruction

    saddamsatan.jpgQuote:  "We removed Saddam Hussein from power because he was a threat to our security." President Bush.

    Figure of Speechpareuresis (pa ROOR eh sis), the overwhelming excuse.

    The White House is trying a bold new tactic—telling the truth.  "It is true that much of the [pre-war] intelligence turned out to be wrong," the president concedes.  In other words, Bush recognizes for the first time that there were no WMD's in Iraq.

    But then he throws in a pareuresis, a figure that has two meanings in ancient rhetoric:  It's either a great excuse, or a fake one.

    Snappy Answer:  "Why?"


    Let’s Spin It as a Win-Win

    bushvictory.jpgQuote:  "On the current course we will have two options.  We can lose in Iraq and destroy our army, or we can just lose."  Anonymous Marine lieutenant colonel quoted by James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly.

    Figure of Speechdilemma, the damned-if-you-do-or-don't figure.

    We take many figures for granted, including the dilemma (Greek for "double proposition").  Offering an opponent two unsavory choices, it's one of the toughest figures to rebut.

    In this case, though, the officer is less pessimistic than he sounds.  To get out of the dilemma, he says, change the course.  Ramp up the training of Iraq's army.  Of course, that means the administration will have to devote more time to hard work and less time to slogans.

    Snappy Answer:  "Which option will bring us victory?"


    And Medicaid Won’t Pay for the Surgery

    fristmeister.jpgQuote:  "Sam Alito, who has a modest judicial temperament ... is someone who deserves advice and consent by the Senate."   Senate honcho Bill Frist on “Fox News Sunday.”

    Figure of Speechencomium, the figure of praise.

    Vote for Sam because he's modest.  Encomium, which praises a person’s basic qualities, is "eulogy" in Greek, unfortunately.  But Alito's Supreme Court nomination is far from dead.  In case the Dems have the nerve to block it, Dr. Frist is threatening to perform a vetoectomy.

    Question:  While they're up-or-down voting, when do Senators get to advise?

    Snappy Answer:  "If modesty's a Supreme Court requirement, you’ll have to impeach Scalia."

    (Photo credit: the Duct Tape Guys)