Archive for Rhetoric

Trends in book titles

I've been interested for some time in the way that (written) English sentence lengths have evolved over time — see "Trends", 3/27/2022, or the slides from my 5/20/2022 talk at SHEL12, "Historical trends in English sentence length and syntactic complexity". It's well known that the titles of published books have undergone an analogous process, but I don't think I've written about it. (Nor do I know of any scholarship on the topic — perhaps some commenters will be able to suggest some.)

A couple of days ago, while looking for the origins of an idiom, I stumbled across a contender for the title-length championship in in an interesting work from 1740 (image here):

THE ART of READING: OR, THE ENGLISH TONGUE MADE Familiar and easy to the meanest Capacity. CONTAINING, I. All the common words, ranged into distinct tables and classes; as well in regard to the number of letters in each word, as to the easiness of pronunciation, and the bearing of the accent. With useful notes and remarks upon the various sounds of the letters occasionally inserted in the margin. II. A large number of lessons, regularly suited to each table. III. An explanation of several words; particularly such as are of the same, or nearly alike in sound: designed to correct and prevent some orthographical errors and mistakes. IV. Some observations, rules, and directions, relating to the reading and writing English properly and correctly. The whole done after a new and easy Method. Approved of, and recommended, as the best book for the use of children, and all others, who would speedily attain to the knowledge of the English tongue. By P. SPROSON, S. M.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Teaching racist rhetoric in Africa

"Racism for Sale – BBC Africa Eye documentary" (6/12/22).  The film is 49:05 long, but you only need to watch the first 15 seconds to get a graphic idea of what it's about:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Chinese parallelism in an English-language scientific paper

I received the following letter and observations from the editor of a science journal:

We will be rejecting the paper because it is outside the range of topics the
journal handles. But it also has a writing style that I'd like to warn the
authors to avoid. Here is a sample (from the usual "review of previous work"):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Vicious smears, part 2

The CCP's favorite word for characterizing opinions with which they disagree seems to be "smear", which I wrote about here:  "Vicious smears" (9/10/20).

Recently, for whatever reason, we now have a plentiful new crop of "smearisms" in official Chinese media, for examples of which see here, here, here, here, and here (all from Global Times, CCP's major ideological mouthpiece, whose Chinese and English versions have since 2009 been under the editorship of the formidable firebrand, Hu Xijin; in recent months Hu has repeatedly said that he would be stepping down as editor-in-chief of GT, but, judging from his still frequent interventions, he evidently continues to wield enormous power in the propaganda apparatus).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Nonnegation

In reading texts from the earliest times of Chinese writing up to the present, and at all social levels and linguistic registers, I have noticed a curious phenomenon.  Namely, often an overtly negative particle or term will have no privative or prohibitive force, but is simply there for rhythmic, clitic, or rhetorical function.

Naturally, since negation is normally marked and unmistakable in its purpose, when its unaffirmative function is lost / absent / missing, interpreting the intended meaning of such a statement or utterance can be challenging.

I was prompted to contemplate this curious phenomenon when I was writing a message to my brother in Chinese, and realized that "guǎn tā 管它" and "béng guǎn tā 甭管它" mean the same thing: — "forget about it; leave it alone; don't worry about it"! — with or without the negative word being overtly present.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

The Rhetoric Trap

Interesting Chinese translation of the title of Yale philosopher Jason Stanley's book, How Propaganda Works:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

"Elevated stupidity"

Dave Holmes, "The Rise of Elevated Stupidity", Esquire 6/11/2021:

Stupidity is saying two plus two equals five. Elevated Stupidity is doing the same thing, except you invoke Pythagoras, decry cancel culture when someone corrects you, then get a seven-figure book deal and a speaking tour out of it. Elevated Stupidity has permeated all facets of life—reality TV, social media, Congress, your group chat, and your softball team. Elevated Stupidity stems from the idea that being good at arguing is the same thing as being correct. That rhetorical skill—or at least a degree of big debate-club energy sufficient to wear out one’s opponent—is the equivalent of intelligence. If being a good arguer is the same as being smart or correct, then do you know who is the smartest, correct-est person in history? Every Scientologist. […]

Elevated Stupidity is as old as recorded history. The Old Testament book of Proverbs cautions, “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are,” and says, “A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk.” Elevated Stupidity was easy to identify and, like a thorny branch compared with an assault rifle, much easier to dodge. Today it’s unavoidable. Why? We live in the Hot-Take Economy, with three major news-yelling networks and a full bench of second-stringers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

How a porcupine talks

Comments (25)

I have a joke, but …

A new (?) joke-rhetoric pattern has appeared recently on twitter, e.g.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Eat vinegar, Jesus Christ, and Middle Persian

I've always been intrigued by the Chinese expression "eat vinegar" (chīcù 吃醋) meaning "be jealous".  To convey the idea of "jealous", one can also say dùjì 妒忌 or just dù 妒 (note the female semantophore).  I learned the disyllabic form with the syllables reversed, hence jìdù 忌妒.  The monosyllabic form (dù 妒) is ancient, going back to classical times.

I said jìdù 忌妒 instead of dùjì 妒忌 because the former is what all my Chinese friends and relatives said, though my impression is that the latter is more common across the Mandarin-speaking population.  Nonetheless, I felt that saying jìdù 忌妒 was awkward because, except for the tones, it is homophonous with Jīdū 基督, which I always understood as some form of "Jesus".  In fact, Jīdū 基督 is a short form of Jīlìsīdū 基利斯督, which is a transcription of "Christ", from Ancient Greek Χριστός (Khristós).  The Sinitic transcription of "Jesus" is Yēsū 耶稣, which ultimately also comes from Ancient Greek:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), possibly via Latin Iesus and other European languages. Doublet of Yīyīsūsī 伊伊穌斯/伊伊稣斯.  (source)

Incidentally, jì 忌 is a simplified form of  嫉 ("to envy, be jealous; to hate, resent").  Note that this traditional form of the character, like dù 妒, its synonymous morpheme partner in the disyllabic word jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous"), also has a female semantophore.  Thus we get a double whammy of misogyny in jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous").  

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)

The art of the promo

One of the assignments in ling001 "Introduction to Linguistics" is a Final Project, which is a piece of original linguistic analysis. The results are often excellent, as these examples from five or six years ago indicate. One especially successful example was Jared Fenton's 2014 analysis of "The art of the promo", about the monologues delivered by pro wrestling "superstars" in order to generate audience interest.

This analysis gained new relevance in 2015, when Donald Trump began using the same techniques in the political arena. So Jared recently wrote a piece for Medium, "Will WWE Techniques Help Win Trump Two Elections?"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Before their time

Sarah Cooper's marvelous enactments of Donald Trump's rhetoric have earned her an enormous audience — 22.4M views for this one on twitter, for example, plus more views on tiktok and youtube.

But there's another comedian who pioneered the same technique — lip-syncing Trump — to a significantly smaller audience back in 2015 and 2016. Or I should say "comedy team" rather than "comedian", since these Trump-syncing videos come from a trio of comedians at Friend Dog Studios, Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, and Seth Macchi. I linked to an example in "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric", 12/5/2015. And I think their work deserves to be revived.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

There is no best but better

Tweet by Thomas Packard:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)