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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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    Wednesday
    Dec212005

    Do Spies Knock?

    spy_vs_spy.jpgQuote:  "The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the three a.m. knock on our door.   It challenges abuse of authority… And so it's a matter of considerable concern to me when our legal system is assaulted by our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, the only person obliged to take care that the laws are faithfully executed."  Rep. Henry Hyde, urging impeachment of President Clinton in 1998

    Figure of Speechfable, the storytelling example.

    Aristotle said you can use three kinds of example in rhetorical logic:  fact, comparison, and "fable."  Congressman Hyde isn't remembering a specific midnight fire or three a.m. knock.  He's making his audience imagine these things happening to them—in a nation where the president flouts the laws.

    Any comparison between that quotation and the president's approval of NSA spying on Americans is entirely coincidental.

    Snappy Answer:  "Unless the prez decides we're bad guys.  Then there is no rule of law, right?"

    Tuesday
    Dec202005

    The School Board Was Certainly Un-evolved

    chimpmakemyday.gifQuote:  "Breathtaking inanity."  U.S. District Judge John Jones, describing the decision by the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to include Intelligent Design in the curriculum.

    Figure of Speechthaumasmus (thaw MAS muss), the figure of wondering.

    Talk about activist judges. This liberal … Oh, wait. He's a Republican.  This federal judge somehow thinks it's unconstitutional to kidnap God and force Him to teach biology.

    Judge Jones uses a thaumasmus (Greek for "marveling") to express his wonder at the Creationists' attempt to politicize science.  Jones's thaumasmus is particularly elegant for its ironic hint at admiration.

    Snappy Answer:  "Maybe apes evolved from us."

    Tuesday
    Dec202005

    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."
    Monday
    Dec192005

    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?"

    Thursday
    Dec152005

    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.'"

    Thursday
    Dec152005

    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?"