Archive for Rhetorical Devices

Instant Gratification

The long-story form of a joke was designed to enhance the communal experience for the teller and the listener. But our modern listener may become restive. Since one hopes it possible that a joke may remain funny if told another way, we try cutting to the essence. Here goes:

approaches(flood, S)

offers(TS, “truck escape?“)
demurs(ST, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, Ground floor)
relocates(S, upstairs)

offers(BS, “boat escape?“)
demurs(SB, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, Top floor)
relocates(S, roof)

offers(HS, “helicopter escape?“)
demurs(SH, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, S)
relocates(S, Heaven)

queries(SGod, “WTF?“)
responds(GodS, “Sent truck, boat, helicopter!“)

Does it still work? If not, there’s a long version available at radar.


How does one ask google to find out if there’s a technical term for the practice of deliberately leaving struck-out text in place?

There are probably two cases

  • in proof-reading, a need to see prior versions the history of the text.
  • in rhetoric, to pretend to hide an insult in praise

It’s specifically the second rhetorical use I’m after. There’s clearly no need for it. Technology has eliminated that. Why leave the ‘uncorrected text’ when you can just delete or reword without trace? Leaving it behind can only be to make a point, to amuse or to otherwise mess with the reader’s brain.

And that’s why the Ancient Greeks were invented, to provide us with those classy classical Greek terms like anacoluthon and catachresis. But it seemed unlikely I’m going to find one, principally because they didn’t have this kind of technology.

But we practiced such nonsense^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^hdeceptions on teletypes before we could tracelessly remove text. We’re not likely to see old stone carvings visibly showing explicit ‘control h’ (or some ancient equivalent of a carved mark for backspace delete). But there are many documents (including ones cast in stone) with visible corrections or amendments. Doubtless some deliberately left more unhidden than they strictly needed to be.

So the Greeks probably did have a word for it. But what is it? Are there any examples out there? And how do you ask google?


If somebody says “Yeah, they would” when you say “Wild horses wouldn’t drag me there”, are they challenging your horsemanship or – more subtly – your professed distaste for ‘there’?

It may also mean they don’t ‘get’ metaphor and are thinking “Of course they would. How could you stop ‘em, they’re wild horses for godssake”.

Do watch how you use metaphor. Though intended to effect more rapid communication via a shared understanding, it can sometimes get in the way and leave the other guy stewing without your even knowing the damage you’ve done.

Pay attention much?

Never having seen any but the occasional episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which always struck me as quite decent entertainment – I’d never thought of it as a source of linguistic novelty. Seems I was very wrong. Usually good to find that out.

Also finding out that the magazine Verbatim, to which I was subscribed, last century under the editorship of the late Laurence Urdang, is still around, having been revived both in print and online.