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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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    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!"


    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."