Archive for Rhetoric

Oral vs. written rhetoric

Megan McArdle ("Four things Democrats need to understand about beating Trump", WaPo 1/31/2020) has something important to say about the style of Donald Trump's extemporized speeches:

Trump is a good public speaker. "Nails on a chalkboard" doesn't quite capture how educated urbanites feel about Trump's speaking style. A closer analogy would be having your teeth drilled — without Novocain.

His fragmented sentences, simplistic formulae (see those insults above) and rambling style would drive them wild even if the content and partisan ID were more to their taste. They like "polished" candidates who speak in complete sentences that read well when written down.

Trump, by contrast, sounds like … well, actually, he sounds a lot closer to how most people talk than a "good" public speaker. He speaks in short sentences and uses a small vocabulary. He makes up names for stuff to aid listener memory. He repeats himself. He digresses at random.

Trump talks, in short, the way people talk when they aren't expecting their words to be written down. This informal approach horrifies those of us who love reading enough to do it on weekends. But one way to think about this is that it is not so much the difference between good and bad; it is the difference between an oral culture and a written one.

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"With all due respect"

If someone prefaces a sentence by saying "with all due respect", it's a sign that they are likely to unleash something negative or critical, and sometimes quite vulgar and highly disrespectful.  The result, then, is to intensify, rather than to mitigate, their criticism.

Paul Gogarty, a member of Ireland's Green Party, unloaded some fairly colourful language on Labour Party member Emmet Stagg during a debate using this term.

"With all due respect and in the most unparliamentary language, f**k you Deputy Stagg, f**k you…". He then added, "I apologize now for my use of unparliamentary language."

Source

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Xi Jinping's denunciation of splittists

During his recent trip to Nepal, Xi Jinping blasted those who aimed to split up China by saying they would have their "bodies pulverized and bones crushed" (fěnshēnsuìgǔ 粉身碎骨).  A lot of people were shocked by the harshness of the language and also wondered why he would take advantage of the first trip to Nepal by a Chinese president in more than two decades to denounce splittists back home.

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How. Mike. Pence. Talks.

Sometimes, anyhow —

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Changelings

In response to my question about a "term for exchange errors in the mapping from thematic roles to syntactic positions" (in "Thematic spoonerisms"), Jerry Friedman pointed us to hypallage. The OED's first citation for this word is to George Puttenham's 1589 The Arte of English Poesie:

1589 G. Puttenham Arte Eng. Poesie iii. xv. 143 The Greekes call this figure [Hipallage]..we in our vulgar may call him the [vnderchange] but I had rather haue him called the [Changeling].

So I looked up the book, and the context is so much fun that it deserves to be reproduced in full.

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Not just any old Putonghua

No siree!  These Hong Kong students are being taught to emulate Beijing government models:

In the 13rd [sic] Hong Kong Cup Diplomatic Knowledge Contest held on May 12, Hong Kong high school students militantly spoke perfect Putonghua. Their Beijing accent, tone, gestures, facial expressions all reminded one of China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, or even Chairman Mao's wife Jiang Qing. E.g, a schoolgirl indignantly yelled, "Not a single country has fallen into a debt crisis as a result of joining the One Belt One Road!" (The fact, however, remains that due to their inability to repay debts to China, Zambia has lost to China its Kenneth Kaunda Airport and the ZESCO Power Plant; Sri Lanka has handed over its Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease; and Kenya is giving up its Mombasa Port to China.) Xie Feng, Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry of PRC in HKSAR, called upon the students to love the State of China and take up positions in international organizations like the UN. Critics suspect that quite a few HK kids are already thoroughly brainwashed by their pro-CCP education and may be used to infiltrate into American & other Western organizations.

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Rhetorical trope of the week

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Listen, I'm not a fan of the Spanish Inquisition OR predatory multi-level marketing schemes…"

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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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