Daniel T. Richards

Daniel T. Richards

Innovative Strategist & Digital Expert

[Figure Friday] Apophasis: The “Lantern” Figure

Apophasis (uh-PA-fuh-sis) [trope] – Invoking a topic by denying it or by saying it shouldn’t be brought up.

 Eamon: It would be petty of me to bring up my ex-wife’s various indiscretions. I’ll rise above such paltry rhetoric in this court of law.

As a simple form of irony, apophasis is often quite funny. It’s a way to say something without saying it and a great way to “hang a lantern” on a situation. Politicians love it, especially when they make a silly mistake. (Or when they want to attack their opponent, of course.)

Verna: By now you’ve all heard the news, but don’t expect me to talk about that controversial tweet an intern accidentally sent last night. There’s no way I’m throwing MARK SMITH under the bus. We just have too much respect for our team, especially INTERN MARK SMITH, to bring up one tiny, if hilariously truthful, mistake about my opponent’s hatred of strong women. But I’m not going to talk about that.

“Hanging a lantern,” a kind of apophasis, is a term often used in an entertainment context to describe when someone breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges something like an inconsistency in the art or obvious insanity but without directly mentioning it. “Hanging a lantern” can definitely make you more likable to an audience.

For example, in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Basil “hangs a lantern” on the ridiculousness of the plot.

Austin: So, Basil, if I travel back to 1969 and I was frozen in 1967, presumably I could go back and look at my frozen self. But, if I’m still frozen in 1967, how could I have been unthawed in the nineties and traveled back to the—oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Basil: I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself. (Looking at the camera.) That goes for you all, too.

Rhetorically Basil builds the ethos of the film by indirectly pointing out to the audience that the filmmakers understand and share their concerns. Something like this wouldn’t work in a serious drama, but in a comedy setting it might turn a skeptical audience member into a diehard fan.

But rhetors giving a serious speech shouldn’t dismiss “hanging a lantern” on what might be an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

Esau: I didn’t come here to talk about my past, but about the future of our country.

And somehow (amazingly) “hanging a lantern” on your accomplishments through apophasis doesn’t sound overwhelmingly conceited when done with pizazz.

I’m not saying I’m responsible for this country’s longest run of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I’m not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a phoenix metaphor been more personified! I’m not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven’t come across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day! It’s not about me.”
– Tony Stark (Iron Man 2)

I won’t say this post is great, but it did mention both Austin Powers and Iron Man. Just (not) sayin’.

Happy persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

[Figure Friday] Metonymy: The “Don’t Be Literal” Figure

Friends, Romans, countrymen…keep your ears. Just give me your attention.

Metonymy (meh-TAHN-uh-me) [trope] – Referring to a thing by a related concept.

EvanThe Patriots didn’t look so great in their first game. [Instead of individual players]
Vinney: All of them?
Evan: Well, not every single one. I was using metonymy.
Vinney: Watch your mouth! [Instead of language]
Evan: Exactly.

We use metonymy all the time. And we all have friends who think they’re funny by taking it literally:

Waiter: The quail is our finest dish. [Instead of entrée.]
Annoying friend: Are you sure? Dishes aren’t very tasty!
Waiter: How droll.

Don’t be that guy. This is definitely a figure not to take literally.

Also don’t confuse metonymy with metaphor. While metaphors try to show similarities between two concepts, metonyms don’t require any similarity at all.

The White House‘s ISIS strategy is still unclear. [Instead of President Obama]

When we refer to the actions of the president as coming from “the White House,” we’re not saying that Barack Obama looks like a building in Washington, DC.

Metonyms are most effective when they’re unexpected, since many of the common metonyms are now clichés. Try to be creative!

Why do we love bacon? Because science. [Instead of evolutionary biology & nutrition]

Just try to be more creative than me. Happy persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

Dave Barry: Master of Paraprosdokian

Dave Barry: This is the look of a humor columnist.If you’re not already a fan of Dave Barry, just stop. Whatever it is you’re doing can wait. Dave Barry cannot.

Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist formerly with the Miami Herald. Though semi-retired, you’ll have years of entertainment with his archive of columns—not to mention his books.

Barry also writes an annual “Year in Review.” It’s a hysterical and poignant look at recent history. What makes it particularly enjoyable is Barry’s unique use of paraprosdokian, the “Jack Handey” figure of speech where you subvert the audience’s expectations from the beginning of a sentence to the end. One gem:

“In legal affairs, the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act, eliciting high praise from many politicians who enacted the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Just a snippet of the greatness that is Dave Barry. The review is well worth your time. And by studying his technique, you’ll become a better rhetor. Happy persuading in the New Year!

[Figure Friday] Asyndeton: The Julius Caesar Figure


Asyndeton (uh-SIN-duh-ton) [scheme] – Removing conjunctions from a series to add emphasis.

I came, I saw, I conquered.
– Julius Caesar

To the delight of rhetoricians—and the dismay of grammarians—Caesar’s egocentric pronouncement made asyndeton (plural: asyndeta) famous and has become the quintessential example of this mostly poetic figure of speech. Way to go, Juli!

Asyndeton shuns the use of conjunctions in a series as burdensome and clumsy. And the longer the series the better!

“Anyway, like I was saying, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creoles, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That—that’s about it.”
– Bubba from “Forrest Gump”

This scheme changes the rhythm of your rhetoric, either slowing it way down to create solemn drama (like Caesar) or speeding it up to create a sense of urgency:

“An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was thick, warm, heavy, sluggish.”
– From “Heart of Darkness”

Use asyndeton sparingly. As with most figures, it can radically change the effectiveness of your discourse. (So know the rhetorical situation.) Imagine if Caesar had decided to use a conjunction:

“I came, saw, and conquered.”

Or worse, a few conjunctions:

“I came, and I saw, and I conquered.”

The horror, the horror.

Happy persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

[Figure Friday] Litotes: The Politician Figure

Litotes (LIE-tuh-teez) [trope] – Emphasis through understatement usually by using a double negative (but not always).

The litotes, as a figure of speech, is not unpersuasive. (See what I did there.) OK, so that’s a little contrived, but litotes can create a sense of familiarity and increase your ethos if used correctly. Probably the most common example:

That writer’s not bad. [Meaning: That writer is good.]

See. You were using litotes all this time and you didn’t know it. You’re a natural rhetor. Politicians, too, use litotes all the time, since it can  make it seem like you’re saying something when you’re not (or vice versa):

My opponent is not unfamiliar with special interests and lobbying.

Sen. Feinstein’s legislation is not unlike a dictator’s decree.

I’m glad to be here in Hoopeston, IL. This is no ordinary city.

As you can see with the final example, a double negative isn’t required to create litotes, but you have to be a tad clever.

One caution when using this figure: Don’t write like I did in the second paragraph. That is, don’t contrive the situation:

President Obama’s executive order is not untotalitarian.

That just doesn’t work, and it makes you seem unserious. Happy serious persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

[Figure Friday] Paraprosdokian: The Jack Handey Figure

Paraprosdokian (pair-uh-pros-DOH-key-an) [trope] – A sentence or phrase where the latter part causes the audience to rethink the former part.

Master the paraprosdokian figure and you’re well on your way to a career in comedy—as many jokes rely on this mostly-hilarious trope:

“If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.”
– Homer Simpson

The power of this figure come from the unusual dis/connection between the two parts of the sentence. The more unusual (but clever) the dis/connect, the more effective the paraprosdokian will be:

“Let me know if you need help fixing that grill, so I can call someone.”
– Me (at a BBQ last weekend)

For readers old enough to remember, this is the figure that made “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” famous:

“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.”
– Jack Handey

But it’s not all fun and games with the paraprosdokian. If you’re careful about the dis/connect, meaning it’s particularly clever, you can create a powerful figure for serious topics (especially if you like Eastern philosophy):

Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.

Happiness is persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I’ll take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

Know Yourself: 5 Goals of Persuasion

It has become a cliché that the first rule of rhetoric is “know your audience.”

That rule is !#@$.

OK, that’s a bit excessive. (I blame coffee.) The rule itself is fine—great, even. What I take issue with is the order of importance. Most rhetoricians are obsessed with audience analysis…and for good reason. Understanding your audience’s context is vital for being a successful rhetor.

But even more important is a rule that people don’t usually consider. And it should be the new cardinal rule of persuasion:

Know yourself.

Not only is knowing yourself essential for establishing genuine ethos (the most important rhetorical appeal), it’s also the foundation for the construction of every argument: What do you want to accomplish?

Sounds easy, right? Yet entering an argument without a clear goal is the most common mistake I see rhetors make across the board—from amateur to professional—and it only leads to frustration, anger, and name-calling. The Dark Side of the rhetorical Force.

Most people assume that “to win” is the goal of every argument. But what does it mean to win? And what if you could get what you want without “winning”? #CharlieSheenNotHappy

Before spending  energy in an argument, consider these broad rhetorical outcomes:

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[Figure Friday] Anastrophe: The Yoda Figure

Anastrophe (uh-NASS-troh-fee) [scheme] – Rearrangement of the parts of a sentence or phrase that changes the proper or accepted word order.

Think of anastrophe as the Yoda Figure:

“Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you.”
– Yoda

How boring would Yoda be if he talked like the rest of us?

“You have become powerful; I sense the dark side in you.”
– NOda

The typical arrangement of an English sentence is subject –> verb –> object: Yoda eats hot dogs.

But apply the Yoda Figure and you end up with object –> subject –> verb: Hot dogs Yoda eats.

When using anastrophe arrange the sentence any way you want! Limited you are not by Yoda’s preferences. But make sure it’s still intelligible to your audience, unlike: Eats hot dogs Yoda. In this case verb –> object –> subject doesn’t really work unless you add a helping verb: Eats hot dogs Yoda does.

When to Use Anastrophe

The most common use of anastrophe would be in a rhetorical situation that calls for humor, especially levity:

A slick coif and white teeth do not a president make, Mr. Romney.

The “X does not a Y make” is a very common form of anastrophe. But, again, please experiment! You never know what creative arrangement will work best:

Does a president not have an obligation, Mr. Obama, to have never eaten a puppy?

Heard any great examples of anastrophe? Share them in the comment section below. Happy persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I’ll take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

Figures of Speech: Speak Like a Master Rhetor

Do you have a way with words? Ever been told you can “turn a phrase”? Realize it or not you might be naturally adept at using figures of speech. You’re in good company. Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Homer Simpson: All masters of figures of speech. Join Twitter right now.

Broadly speaking a figure of speech is a word or phrase that, in context, is used metaphorically or non-literally. They can add flavor and memorability to your rhetoric and make you sound like Abe Lincoln in his prime. Invest in a top hat. Master figures and you master style.

Ancient rhetoricians and modern linguists have extensively cataloged these poetic flourishes. There are hundreds! But don’t start packing your Tweets, Facebook posts, or YouTube videos with all manners of lexical twists and turns. True, using figures can make you sound like a rhetorical genius, but the overuse of figures can make you sound like a pretentious jerk.

Let’s take a look at these stylistic gems:

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