Archive for Rhetoric

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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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.

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The Rhetoric Trap

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

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"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.

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How a porcupine talks

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I have a joke, but …

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


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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").  

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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?"

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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.


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There is no best but better

Tweet by Thomas Packard:

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Metonymy of the week

Lawrence Downes, "How to turn Sean Hannity into food for worms", WaPo 8/6/2020:

I didn’t set out to compost Sean Hannity. It was something I settled on after considering several other options and rejecting them one by one. The first was leaving him in the basement indefinitely. That worked for a while. I could almost forget about him there, but then I would go down with a basket of laundry and see him and think, I have to do something.

I should explain: I don’t mean the man himself, but Hannity the book. It’s called “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism.”

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Tilting vessel

Earlier this year, we had a post about a fascinating new Wikipedia article on "Goblet word" (5/30/20).  That post was about a vessel that served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word").  Now we have another magisterial Wikipedia article by an anonymous master of Chinese esoterica.  It's about another name for a similar type of vessel called qīqì 欹器, "tilting vessel".

The qīqì (欹器, "tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel") was an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

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Disfluency stylings: On beyond hesitation

Some things that "everybody knows" are refuted repeatedly by the experience of everyday life. A notably example is the function of "filled pauses", whose American English versions are conventionally written "um" and "uh".

Dictionaries all say that these are are expressions of hesitation, doubt, uncertainty; ways to fill time or hold the floor. The OED glosses uh as "Expressing hesitation", and um as "Used to indicate hesitation or doubt in replying to another". Wiktionary glosses uh as "Expression of thought, confusion, or uncertainty", or "Space filler or pause during conversation", and um as "Expression of hesitation, uncertainty or space filler in conversation". Merriam-Webster glosses uh as "used to express hesitation", and um as "used to indicate hesitation". Collins glosses uh as "used when hesitating in speaking, as while searching for a word or collecting one's thoughts", and um as "used in writing to represent a sound that people make when they are hesitating, usually while deciding what they want to say next".

So what are we to make of this, the opening phrase of an hour-long video interview?

uh thanks for tuning in today

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