Archive for Rhetoric

Virgin birth

It's surprising (at least to me) that this seemingly oxymoronic belief is so widespread.  Check out this quote from Christopher Hitchens in “Religion Kills” from his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

…the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danae as a shower of gold…The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree water by the blood of the slain Agdestris, laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis.  The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia.

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Nine quid for two?

The Daily Mail explains that this viral video features "Marnie and Mylah, from Burnley, [who] hit out at the ice cream van for high prices":

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Latin oration at Harvard

[Introduction, transcription and translation follow on the next page]

Latin Salutatory | Harvard Commencement 2022 | Orator:  Benjamin Porteous

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Past posts on Donald Trump's rhetoric

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter asked me for an interview "to discuss the style of Donald Trump's campaign events, the role his rhetoric plays in them, and why they’ve been an effective tool for him".

I explained that I haven't held any focus groups or done any polls, so I don't have any empirical basis for opinions about the role that "the style of his campaign events" plays in making them "an effective tool for him". But over the past 8 years, many LLOG posts have analyzed several aspects of his rhetorical style, both the text and the delivery, which are strikingly different from other contemporary American politicians and public figures. Specifically, these posts have described his

  • Repetition
  • Informality
  • Fluency
  • Melody

This has nothing to do with the political and cultural orientation of his speeches — the same techniques could in principle be applied to the promotion of internationalism rather than nationalism, for example. No doubt the content is a large part of the reason for his appeal, but the rhetorical affinity with professional wrestling is probably the rest of it, as discussed in "The art of the promo", 10/31/2020.

You'll find the list of relevant past posts past the fold  — I invite you to look for one or more of the four features in each post.

But in a way, the most striking thing about the list is its length.

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As Language Log readers are undoubtedly aware, I am prey to mondegreens, earworms, and other imaginary auditory oddities.  Lately, the last half year or so, I've been occasionally subject to what, faute de mieux, I've taken to calling "autoarticulation", modeled after "autosuggestion".

It doesn't last very long, doesn't repeat on an endless loop, and is not very annoying, though it is a bit creepy.

Here's what happens.  A phrase — usually between about three and eight words — pops into my mind.  It comes out of nowhere.  It is completely irrelevant to anything that comes before or after it.  The phrase is articulated clearly in standard, neutral American English, without any accent.  I don't know if anyone else experiences this kind of phenomenon, but in my case, the voice is usually male, although once in a while it may be female.

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Xi Jinping's faux classicism

This new article in The Economist (6/29/23) has a familiar ring to it:

To understand Xi Jinping, it helps to be steeped in the classics

China’s leader has invented a phrase—and an image

Take four Chinese characters, all of them in everyday use. Put them in a certain order and, lo, they become a phrase that looks like classical Chinese—the kind of language used by the literati of yore. The idea they convey could be expressed just as succinctly in colloquial Chinese, but the classical style has gravitas. And it is a phrase loved by Xi Jinping, China’s leader, so all must follow suit.

More than any of his predecessors, Mr Xi likes to spice up his speeches with quotations from classical literature, especially poetry and philosophy. It fits one of his stated missions: instilling “cultural self-confidence” (alongside confidence in the political system). And it helps to buff up his image. In Chinese history, rulers were expected to be erudite. Two volumes have been published providing explanations of Mr Xi’s classical aphorisms.

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can you not

Hidden behind the Keurig in our departmental office, I've been noticing a gawky, ungainly, stray coffee mug with these three words on the side:




No capitalization and no punctuation.

I was mystified.  Whatever could that mean?  I can imagine an arch, haughty, snotty person saying that to someone implying that they don't want the person to whom they're talking to do whatever it is they're doing.  In essence, I suppose it means "You're bothering / bugging / annoying me"; "stop doing that"; "get lost".

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Ask LLOG: Re-use considered harmful?

From RfP:

I’m one of those writers who will do just about anything to avoid using the same word—or, worse yet, the same phrase—within a short run of text. So imagine my horror this morning when, after hastily responding to a comment on your post about “Parse depth in essays vs. novels”, I noticed the following:

Although he is indeed making a case for the combination of text and images in “static print,” as becomes clear in the rest of the paragraph from which I have drawn this excerpt, I feel one can also infer that this quote provides yet one more reason for authors to make their case with, shall we say, salients rather than by means of a lengthy siege.

In spite of my haste in composing this comment, I still took care to ensure that I had spelled everything correctly, and that my syntax was appropriate for the formal register that I was using for my comment.

And I did happen to notice that I had used “one” twice within the same clause, but since that word was used in two different senses and I was in a hurry, I decided to let it stand.

After noticing—and agonizing over—my error with the phrase, I wondered about why this attitude is so deeply ingrained. So I decided to ask you about it, in hopes that there’s an underlying linguistic issue behind it.

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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.

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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:

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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"):

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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).

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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.

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