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The Daily Figure



Your dose of rhetoric that comes at least weekly



Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2017 15:11:57 +0000

Copyright: Copyright Jay Heinrichs
 



Making Sweet Love with a Sentence in a Hayloft

Sun, 19 Nov 2017 15:07:10 +0000

(image) Quote: “It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn in Gallipolis and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland.” – Ohio Supreme Court Justice and gubernatorial candidate Bill O’Neill, on Facebook.

Figure: anacoluthon (an-ah-coh-LOO-thon), the sentence with ADD. From the Greek, meaning “lacking consistency.”

Harken, students of English grammar: If you think your studies are unimportant, consider the man who just wrecked his political career on the shoals of a run-on sentence.

Bill O’Neill is sick and tired of all these angry women attacking grope-prone heterosexual males like Senator Al Franken. So O’Neill attempts to win over voters by bragging about shagging “approximately 50 very attractive females.” Boy, that ought to earn this Democrat the women’s vote!

But then, in a drunken perp walk of a sentence, the randy judge includes long-dead Ohio politician Robert Taft among the bevy of sexual conquests.

What put poor Mr. Taft in that hayloft? A pronoun (“who”) with a misplaced antecedent (“Taft”).

As if the sentence hadn’t done enough harm already, it goes on to imply that a “drop dead gorgeous” redheaded insurance executive joined the ancient senator and a merely “gorgeous” secretary in that hayloft.

The lesson: If you find yourself using more than one “and” to connect clauses in a sentence, you probably should turn that one sentence into two sentences. Or three. And whenever you use a pronoun, pair it with a family-friendly antecedent.

Snappy Answer: Senator Taft was drop dead. But was he gorgeous?




And We Won’t Call Him a Crazy Old Man Who Yells at His TV

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 21:12:51 +0000

Quote: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ –Donald Trump

Figure: paralepsis (pah-rah-LEP-sis), Greek for “omission.” Also occultation, Latin from occultere, to hide or conceal.

(image) The President of the United States and the Supreme Leader of North Korea are conducting an interesting and ever-so-risky rhetorical experiment, to see whether the pen truly is mightier than the sword.

By “pen,” of course, we mean “Tweet.” And by “sword” we mean…well, Figaro doesn’t want to think about that.

In the latest undiplomatic exchange between atomic powers, Kim called Trump a “dotard,” meaning a person in his dotage—old, useless, the sort who forgets where he left the nuclear codes.

Trump, in exchange, semi-humorously targeted Kim with a paralepsis. This figure of thought declares something while denying the declaration. In this case, the Prez is employing a tiny bit of humor. Which would be funnier if civilization weren’t hanging in the balance.

Not that we’re calling President Trump a dangerous dotard who watches Fox News and then conducts foreign policy while sitting on this toilet tapping into his phone. That would be disrespectful. And Figaro is always respectful.




Being Famous Means Never Saying You're Sorry

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 19:53:22 +0000

Why are public figures so bad at apologizing?

It has to do with belittlement: an audience’s feeling of being dissed, and its desire to see the culprit shrink. The problem is, big stars don’t want to become little planets. 

So how does a bigshot—or you, for that matter—apologize without shrinking? Follow these steps:

  1. Own up to the mistake. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  2. Focus on your emotions, not how you hurt someone else. Say how bad you feel about screwing up.
  3. Show how your mistake was an exception to the rule. You’re a great, thoughtful person who temporarily lapsed.
  4. Promise improvement and show what you’re going to do to fix any remaining problems.

Here’s a video I did with details.

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EeOgUpqNnB4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>




What's a "Period"? It Comes from the Breath of the Gods

Mon, 02 Nov 2015 12:52:33 +0000

I recently gave a keynote speech at the European Speechwriters Conference in Berlin. The subject had to do with a concept I’ve been noodling over for many years: the rhetorical period. I shared a discovery I made some time ago: that the climaxes of great speeches in movies and politics last 12 seconds.

Here’s a short version of what I said.

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/IBdFcQXBoTo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

 

 




The Best Pickup Line? "Ethos."

Wed, 05 Aug 2015 14:24:20 +0000

I get asked this question all the time: “Hey, Persuasion Guy…” (Actually, nobody calls me Persuasion Guy, though I wish they would). “What’s the most surefire pickup line in a bar?”

Dude. (That’s what I call guys who want pickup lines.) If a woman wants you to pick her up, just don’t say anything that blows it. The woman will be judging you more than your lines. Which brings us to the theory of Ethos, your expressed character.

First, show that you care about the woman. A great pickup line? Ask her a question about herself. Compliment her shoes and ask where she got them. (Straight guys rarely compliment a woman’s shoes, so at the least you’ll surprise her.) This is eunoia, disinterested good will. It’s the Caring part of Ethos.

Next, show you know what you’re doing. Signal the bartender suavely. This is phronesis, the Craft part of Ethos.

Finally, show respect and good manners. That’s arete, or virtue, the cause part. You’re a genuinely good guy.

Yeah, some women aren’t looking for a genuinely good guy. They’re looking for an exciting, even dangerous guy. In which case, work harder on your Craft. And here you’re on your own. I’ve been happily married for too long to look dangerous. 

Here’s a video Christina and I made. I cut out the part where she talks about what she thinks is the perfect line. Sorry. She already has Ryan Gosling as an imaginary boyfriend.




Tired of Office Clichés? Try These!

Tue, 14 Jul 2015 14:59:37 +0000

Figaro just wrote this piece for the Man Guide, about the stupid expressions that make you look like an office tool. Our favorite part (if we do say so ourselves) comes at the end,when we suggest replacement clichés that aren’t even clichés yet. Call them proto-clichés.

Air-kiss : Insincere praise, as in, “They totally air-kissed our presentation.”

Anaerobic : An unsustainable pace. From sports, when a sprinting athlete goes into oxygen deprivation.

Drop-set : Adding a few easy tasks to a hard one. From weightlifting, when you add a set with lower weights.

Drop the towel : Less sexist than “Open the kimono”; to operate transparently.

Eat the worm : Overdo it. You know, like getting drunk and eating the larva at the bottom of a bottle.

Ground-truth : Use instead of “due diligence” or “fact-check.” In satellite imaging it means checking the accuracy and interpretation of pictures from space.

Terminal velocity : Going as fast as we can before we hit the ground.

Yoga pants deadline : Tight and transparent.




Prosopopoiea: Pronounce It, Then Use It

Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:25:50 +0000

Pro-so-po-PEE-ah. OK, you can pronounce it. Every teacher of speech and rhetoric should use it in class. Why? For one thing, every rhetoric class used to consider this exercise essential to oratory. For another, it really works.

Prosopopeia has students pretending to be great speakers from the present and past. You try to imitate the character and voice of a famous person, often in a novel setting. For example, have James Madison lecture the current Supreme Court on the Constitution. Or have different women in history argue why they should be on the $10 bill.

The more dramatic students really get into it. But even shy students can benefit, pretending to be someone else for a while. Besides being a fun speech exercise, it’s a terrific way to teach history—by channeling it.

Here’s a video we did for our sister site, ArgueLab.

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iSixxMEeQ_Q" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>




Talk Your Way Out of a Traffic Ticket

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:35:11 +0000

You may be interested in our sister site, ArgueLab, which has a post and fun video on how to get out of a ticket. The story might be familiar to you. You can find it here.

 




Can Cicero Help You Snag a College or Job?

Mon, 08 Jun 2015 10:58:04 +0000

Why, yes he can.

In Thank You for Arguing, Jay shows how the Ciceronian outline can help you make a winning speech or presentation. That same outline can work for a job or college interview. It’s simple:

Start with a good first impression, boosting your ethos—the audience’s impression of your character. Show you know the job and would be good at it, that you understand the company, and that you’d be a good fit. The same things work for a college, only they’re also looking for virtue, signs that you’re a good, mature person. Talk about the lessons you’ve learned. Be confident but humble.

Next, ask good questions and show a command of the facts. Make your case for why you’re better than the competition. Tell a good story of a problem you solved.

Finally, don’t be afraid to show a little emotion. Don’t sing opera or burst out sobbing. Just a little passion. Say how excited you are about the possibility of working or studying at this wonderful place, and that you’re sure you’re the perfect fit. Let your eyes shine, lean forward a little and—lower your voice a bit. Strangely enough, speaking more quietly can show more passion, as if you’re sharing a secret.

Watch this video to see how our ArgueLab colleague, Christina, does it.

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B-aVpPGf7Ng" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>




The Art of Framing

Tue, 26 May 2015 11:20:09 +0000

What does it mean to “frame” an issue? Is it like framing a picture of your sweet grandmother, the one where she’s smoking her favorite pipe?

Yeah, kind of. To frame an issue means to put it in your own box, setting up the terms and context in a way that favors you. (To get the details about framing, see Thank You for Arguing, revised edition, page 123.)

The most important tool of framing is redefinition, in which you redefine the terms of the argument. The tobacco industry did this neatly back in the 1970s, when it talked about the “controversy” over the health hazards of smoking. Scientists and doctors saw no controversy at all. Smoking is terrible for you, period. But the word “controversy” framed the smoking issue by sowing doubt. And guess what framing word climate change deniers are using these days? Yep. “Controversy.”

Here’s a video that uses framing to answer a question from a high school student. Tell us what you think in the comments.

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b_F8VzjizR8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>