Archive for Rhetoric

Eristic argument

At the beginning of this week, we looked at a new term for "troll" in Chinese, and that led to a discussion of just what a troll is and how they behave "The toll of the trolls" (5/25/19).

One of the things we found out is that trolls love to argue for the sake of arguing / argument.  They are by nature argumentative, quarrelsome, contentious, contrarian, disputatious, and truculent.  So I looked around to see if there were any precedent in history or outside of the internet for this type of cantankerousness.

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Emergency in B flat

In his 2/15/2019 announcement about declaring a state of emergency on the southern border, President Trump used a striking sequence of fifteen singsong phrases:

So the uh the order is signed. And uh I'll f- I'll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office. And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, uh even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we'll get another bad ruling, and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court. Just like the ban, they sued us in the 9th Circuit and we lost, and then we lost in the appellate division, and then we went to the Supreme Court and we won.

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Scalar implicature reversal of the week

From "How to Complain at a Restaurant? Just Ask Our Critic", NYT 2/5/2019:

In general, the more specific your complaint, the more likely it is to be understood. The worst, most useless and potentially dangerous complaints are broad, sweeping condemnations.

“There is complaining that makes you think about what you’re doing, and there is complaining where everybody thinks they’re entitled to say anything,” said Rita Sodi, the chef and owner of the Tuscan restaurant I Sodi in Manhattan. “Saying, ‘This is terrible’ is not complaining. That is being rude. It’s like, ‘You’re ugly.’ It’s telling me that I’m ugly. It’s personal. It’s my food.”

Even when the person you’re grousing to did not cook your pasta personally, you should proceed gently, in nonconfrontational terms. It may be helpful to imagine that you are speaking with an air traffic controller trying to land 20 jets during a snowstorm; you would try very hard not to add to the overall stress level in the tower, even if your child was on one of those jets.

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More literary troubles for Xi Jinping

This article (in Chinese) describes how China's netizens (wǎngyǒu 网友) are ridiculing President Xi for inappropriately quoting a poem by Kong Rong 孔融 (153-208), a 20th generation descendant of Confucius, in his New Year's address to the nation.

The first lines of the poem are:

suìyuè bù jū
shíjié rú liú

歲月不居
時節如流

The years do not stand still,
Time flows on like a river.

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Whose values?

The subhed of this opinion piece made me do a double take — Bari Weiss, "A Massacre in the Heart of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: The values that drove Robert Bowers to murder my neighbors are the ones we cherish — and will continue to live by", NYT 10/27/2018.

At least, that's how the piece originally ran:

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Generic plural nurses

Following up on Kai von Fintel's post "Nurses say yes and no" — the (mis-)interpretation of generic plurals has been a frequent topic here. "Generic comparisons", 11/7/2011, surveys some of this material, starting from a presentation by Sarah-Jane Leslie of her work in "Do all ducks lay eggs? The generic overgeneralization effect", Journal of Memory and Language 2011. And going back a bit further, in "Mandatory treatment for generic plurals?", 9/13/2009, I proposed "a voluntary ban on the use of generic plurals to express statistical differences, especially in talking to the general public about scientific results in areas with public policy implications".

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The non-ineffability of "strip" as a measure word

The Guardian published an article on "10 of the best words in the world (that don't translate into English)" (7/27/18).  Calling on nine of their correspondents, they introduced a bouquet of beautiful words, each one of which I am enamored:

SPAIN: sobremesa (Sam Jones in Madrid)

PORTUGAL: esperto/esperta (Juliette Jowit)

ITALY: bella figura (Angela Giuffrida in Rome)

GERMANY: Feierabend (Philip Oltermann in Berlin)

FINLAND: sisu (Jon Henley)

IRAN: Ta’arof (Saeed Kamali Dehghan)

RUSSIA: тоска (toska) (Andrew Roth in Moscow)

JAPAN: shoganai (Justin McCurry in Tokyo)

NETHERLANDS: polderen (Jon Henley)

CHINA: tiáo 条 (Madeleine Thien)

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Dangerous speech

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What would Freud say?

At a press conference yesterday, Paul Ryan announced that he won't be running for re-election this fall, explaining that

uh to be clear I am not resigning
I intend to full my serve term as I was elected to do
but I will be retiring in January
leaving this majority in good hands with a-
what I believe is a very bright future

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Able to read and write, yet illiterate

In the course of doing research for a series of posts I plan on doing, I was listening to an interview from a few years ago with Bryan Garner, and something he said bothered me. Well, actually, I was bothered by more than one thing that he said, but this post is only about one of them: Garner’s use of the word literate. And truth be told, that’s something that’s bothered me for a while.

Garner doesn’t usually use literate to mean ‘able to read and write’. Rather, he uses it as a term of praise for the kind of people and publications that use the expressions he approves of and avoid those he condemns. Thus, his usage guides tell us that the double comparative is uncommon “among literate speakers and writers,” that irrelevant is sometimes misspelled irrevelant in “otherwise literate publications,” that singular they “sets many literate Americans’ teeth on edge.” In contrast, pronouncing the –p– in comptroller “has traditionally been viewed as semiliterate,” as is the word irregardless and writing would of instead of would have. Saying where’s it at is “a badge of illiteracy.”

Garner would say that he’s using literate to mean ‘educated’ or ‘cultured.’ Although there’s no entry for the word in his usage guides, there is one for illiterate, which obviously illuminates Garner’s understanding of literate:

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Rhetoric in Troll-land

Anton Torianovski, "A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’", WaPo 2/17/2018:

You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would make up an act. We had to make it look like we were not trolls but real people. One of the three trolls would write something negative about the news, the other two would respond, “You are wrong,” and post links and such. And the negative one would eventually act convinced. Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out.

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Excessive quadrisyllabicism

Many readers of Language Log will remember the visit of China's former internet censor-in-chief, Lu Wei, to the headquarters of Facebook, Apple, and Amazon in late 2014.  Those were his glory days, but now his star has fallen in a most spectacular fashion:

"China’s ‘tyrannical’ former internet tsar Lu Wei accused of trading power for sex in long list of corruption charges: Lu accused of a range of crimes from abusing power for personal gain to disloyalty", by Frank Tang (SCMP [2/13/18])

"China's former chief of internet regulator expelled from Communist Party" (Reuters [2/13/18)

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Evangelical over/under

Ross Douthat, "Is There an Evangelical Crisis?", NYT 11/25/2017 (emphasis added):

But it’s also possible that evangelical intellectuals and writers, and their friends in other Christian traditions, have overestimated how much a serious theology has ever mattered to evangelicalism’s sociological success. It could be that the Trump-era crisis of the evangelical mind is a parochial phenomenon, confined to theologians and academics and pundits and a few outlier congregations — and that it is this group, not the cultural Christians who voted enthusiastically for Trump, who represent the real evangelical penumbra, which could float away and leave evangelicalism less intellectual, more partisan, more racially segregated … but as a cultural phenomenon, not all that greatly changed. […]

Correction: November 26, 2017
An earlier version of this column misstated a possible belief among some Christians about how much a serious theology matters to evangelicalism’s sociological success. They may have overestimated it, not underestimated it.

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