Daniel T. Richards

Daniel T. Richards

Digital Strategist. Rhetorician. All Around Swell Guy.

[Figure Friday] Apophasis: The “Lantern” Figure

I probably shouldn’t mention that “lantern” is a stretch for a Halloween post. So I won’t.

Apophasis (eh-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.”]

Poise(d) to Persuade

Robert Benchley: “My good man, would you please get me a taxi?”
Uniformed Man: “I’m not a doorman. I’m an admiral in the United States Navy.”
Robert Benchley: “Alright then. Get me a battleship.”

I bet you rarely agree with people who cry when you ask them tough questions—or buy things from salesmen who wave their arms and scream at you. (Wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men notwithstanding.)

But what about a politician who stands on his convictions, who fights for them with enthusiasm—or a salesman who knows everything about the product and exudes confidence? Sold!

When you’re giving any form of public talk, sales pitch, or even sharing an opinion with your friends, one factor that can make or break the outcome is how you manage your demeanor. Do you get angry easily? Do you speak softly with little conviction? Do you make eye contact?

It’s all a matter of poise, and it can affect your ethos for better or worse.

We often hear about poise as a single attribute. Either someone has it or they don’t. Like the flu. But upon reflection poise seems to be a more complicated concept. I’ve seen people “lose” their poise mid-speech, and I’ve seen people “gain” it after stumbling out of the gate.

So what exactly is poise?

Continue reading

[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.”]