Archive for Rhetoric

Stark rhetoric

Brad DeLong  thinks that the way to understand the appeal of Donald Trump is to see him as a kind of big-city billionaire version of Willie Stark ("Nail 'em up!!!!", 1/21/2016):

Methinks it is time to go reread Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men again… […]

[T]he rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero/probability event. And, as David Kreps taught me many years ago, rationally-updating one's beliefs in the wake.of a zero-probability event is a… genuinely hard problem. For a zero probability event to happen means that your visualization of the Cosmic All is simply wrong–or it would not strike you as a zero probability event.

However, the herds and hordes of journalists and political scientists are not coming to grips with this. Rather than come to grips with this, they work hard to “save the phenomena” and save their models–analyzing the rise and durability of Donald Trump by making the smallest possible tweaks to what they thought last year. They are not stepping back and absorbing the lesson. They do not want to recognize that the rise and durability of Trump teaches them that what they thought last year was wrong. They do not want to face the reality that they need to pretty much throw everything away and start over.

But if they were willing to throw pretty much everything away and start over, the place to start over is with Robert Penn Warren[.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric

Today the New York Times presented two dissections of the style as well as the content of Donald Trump's rhetoric: Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman, "95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue", and Jeremy B. Merrill, "How Donald Trump Talks".

But I haven't seen anyone describe what seems to me to be the most striking aspect of his style: its repetitiveness.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

The American dream is dead

So says Donald Trump — and Fut Azteca:

Comments (3)

For all your sleeping needs

Chris Cillizza, "Donald Trump’s troll game of Jeb Bush: A+", WaPo 9/8/2015:

The second the Internet alerted me to the fact that someone — a woman in a hat to be specific — had nodded off while on camera at a Jeb Bush event last week, the first thing that came to my mind was: Donald Trump is going to have a field day with this.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

American politics: The pending expletive shortage

Charles Pierce, "Hillary Clinton Has Run Out of F*cks to Give", Esquire 8/28/2015:

My goodness, the special snowflakes of the elite political media are all a'quiver because Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for president of the United States, has decided to talk like somebody who wants to be president of the United States, which is to say, she's started to talk like someone whose big bag of fcks to give is running very, very low.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Trump on China

Great material for a unit on prosody, from Ben Craw:

Comments (12)

Hyperbolic scalar indifference

From Larry Horn

Eliza Kennedy, I Take You, 2015 (p. 69):

[narrator has just been asked by wedding planner to choose one of six identical-looking swatches]

I look at her, then at Rose. “Ladies? To say that I do not give two shits about this vastly overestimates the value I place on shits.”

They puzzle that one out for a while. So do I. Those Bloody Marys must have been pretty strong.

Trollthumper, in the context of an online discussion of TV shows:

Yeah, and while I'm not one to uphold a show as "the documentary experience," having such inaccuracies can just leave this ringing sense of disconnect with those who know the language. And I know that sometimes, that's just me – I've gotten into fights with friends over blatant inaccuracies in media, because in their eyes, such things only matter to a few people – and I don't believe you need to give a fuck about EVERYTHING. But there does come a point where a viewer's "lack-of-fucks-ometer" is going to tick over the red line, and when it does, they'll start to wonder if the scriptwriter gave a fuck about ANYTHING.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

Bad newspaper prose (yes, with passives)

Those who want a clear example of truly dreadful prose, dreadful in large part because of the use of the much-loathed agentless passive, should look at examples like this, from the UK Daily Mail website on Sunday, July 12:

The medical director of NHS England has disclosed that up to one in seven hospital procedures are unnecessary, it has been reported.

Sir Bruce Keogh is said to have described waste in the health service as "profligate" and called for it to be reduced.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the former heart surgeon estimated that up to 15% of the NHS budget is spent on treatments that should not take place.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Sleight of 'quite'

John Gertner, "‘Elon Musk,’ by Ashlee Vance", NYT /17/2015:

He is now, quite arguably, the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world.

Matt Hutson writes:

“Arguably” is often used to temper an argument, so “quite arguably” should temper it even more. But here “quite” has the effect of strengthening the argument  rather than strengthening the tempering of the argument. Seemingly paradoxically, “quite arguably” approaches the meaning of “inarguably.” In essence, by adding “quite,” we suddenly see a proposition’s being arguable in contrast to its being untenable, rather than in contrast to its being undeniable. A neat sleight of word!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Moving house with military precision

I just moved house this week. (Had to. Lease unexpectedly terminated on the second day of classes in the new academic year. Gaaahh!) Colleagues and friends keep asking me how it went. I've decided that the right thing to say is: "It all went like a military operation."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

The grammar of "Better Together"

The official name of the organization campaigning for a No vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is "Better Together." That phrase was originally the campaign's main slogan. Much has been written in recent days about the campaign's evident signs of panic, but no one has commented on the stupidity of "Better Together" as a slogan. (It was actually ditched by the campaign in June, and replaced by an even more pathetic slogan: "No Thanks.")

Better together is an adjective phrase. Used on its own, without any logical subject or other accompanying noun phrases, it is apparently supposed to affirm that something will go better in some way for someone than something else if something is together with something else, but it doesn't specify any of these someones or somethings. Yet the cui bono issue (who benefits) is absolutely crucial to the debate. The ineptness of the sloganeering is almost unbelievable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Is English a "writer-responsible language" and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese "reader-responsible languages"?

These are totally new concepts for me.  Until David Cragin told me about them, I had never heard of reader-responsible language and writer-responsible language.

Dave works for Merck in the Safety & Environment group, knows Mandarin, has been to China 12 times since 2005, and teaches a short course on risk assessment and critical thinking at Peking University every year.  He was recently appointed to the Executive Committee of the US-based Sino-American Pharmaceuticals Professional Association (SAPA), so he has a professional and personal interest in cross-cultural communication.

In an earlier post, we discussed another, related issue that interests Dave:  "Critical thinking".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (42)

Nicholas Wade: Genes, culture, and history

Nicholas Wade never met a genetic just-so story that he didn't like. For a partial survey, see "The hunt for the Hat Gene", 11/15/2009, where I observed that he pivots smoothly from mere over-interpretation to complete fabrication:

Nicholas Wade is an inveterate gene-for-X enthusiast — he's got 68 stories in the NYT index with "gene" in the headline — and he's had two opportunities to celebrate this idea in the past few days: "Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature", 11/12/2009, and "The Evolution of the God Gene", 11/14/2009. The first of these articles is merely a bit misleading, in the usual way. The second verges on the bizarre.

Now Mr. Wade has packaged a large-scale version of this move as a book, where a somewhat tendentious account of human genetic diversity transitions into a fictional narrative proposing genetic explanations for essentially every aspect of human cultural, social, and economic history: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, 2014.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (49)