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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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    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)


    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!"