rhetorical devices

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Ambiguity is bad. Puns, double entendre and paranomasia are good.


DOUBLE ENTENDRE The playwright Oscar Hammerstein, who used to work in a cigar factory, said that a play is like a cigar. 'If it’s good, everybody wants a box, and if it’s bad, no amount of puffing will make it draw.' (Nilsen 99).


Cliches and trite expressions are bad. But idiomatic expressions are good.


IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS 'Even though you are not an acrobat or an infant, you can `put your foot in your mouth.’ If someone `has two left feet,’ we do not order special shoes. When someone `kicks the bucket’ we are more likely to head for the funeral home than for the mop closet' (Lindfors 55).


Confusion and chaos are bad. But enigma and paradox are good.


PARADOX Aesop tells about a traveler who sought refuge with a satyr on a very cold night. It was so cold that the stranger blew on his hands to make them warm. The next morning the traveler was served some hot porridge, so he blew on it to make it cool. On seeing this, the satyr threw the traveler out of his home, for he would have nothing to do with a man who could blow hot and cold with the same breath (Eschholz and Rosa 99).


Contradiction and incongruity are bad. But oxymorons and equivocations are good.


OXYMORONS 'Blanket' originally meant a 'white cloth'; therefore, a 'black blanket' is a concealed oxymoron. Other concealed oxymorons include 'young senator,' 'typed manuscript,' and 'old novel' (Christ 972).


Doggerel is bad. Intentional doggerel is good.


GOOD DOGGEREL I love you more than a duck can swim, And more than a grapefruit squirts, I love you more than commercials are a bore, And more than a toothache hurts. (Nash 153)


Faulty grammar is bad. But anacoluthon (intentional faulty grammar) is good.


ANACOLUTHON 'I like meat better than any other vegetable except ice cream' (Schwartz 25).


Faulty parallelism is bad. But zeugma (intentional faulty parallelism) is good.


ZEUGMA In a 1975 speech, Gerald Ford said that there are three major ways to be kept informed about what is going on in Washington: 'The electronic media, the print media, and Doonesbury' …not necessarily in that order (Nilsen 100).


Imitation and repetititiveness is bad. But parody and caricature are good.


ORIGINAL 1 Hear the sledges with the bells— Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight;


ORIGINAL 2 Keeping time time, time In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells— From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


PARODY 1 Hear the fluter with his flute, Silver flute! Oh, what a world of wailing is awakened by its toot! How it demi-semi quavers On the maddened air of night! And defieth all endeavors To escape the sound or sight


PARODY 2 Of the flute, flute, flute, With its tootle, tootle, toot… Of the flute, flewt, fluit, floot, Phlute, phlewt, phlewght, And the tootle, tootle, tooting of its toot. (Wells 140).


An inept comparison is bad. But a parable, simile or analogy is good.


ANALOGY Martin Grotjahn compares a cartoonist with a witch doctor, saying, 'As in primitive societies, where the witch doctor creates a doll and uses it, by magic, to gain power over the person the doll represents, so the caricaturist hopes unconsciously to regain this magical power in his cartoon and to destroy his enemy with it' (Grotjahn 152).


Jargon, gobbledygook, newspeak and doublespeak are bad. But inkhorn terms and classical allusions and even jargon can be good.


BUSINESS JARGON Candy Store Problem: A situation involving a wide variety of choices with little basis for picking one alternative over the others. Kangaroo Strategies: Adventurous strategies where you leap into the unknown unsure of where you will land. Mouse Milking: Undue effort expended to accomplish a small result (Mueller 4).


Lies, exaggerations and embellishments of the truth are bad. But metaphor, satire, and sarcasm are good.


SATIRE Dylan Williams says that satire is 'a literary form which mixes humor, wit and critical attitude in order to improve society.' Its original meaning was 'a dish filled with mixed fruits,' in which case 'Le Cage aux Folles' is a satire in both senses of the word (Helitzer 70).


A non sequitur or a tense shift is bad. But an anachronism, flash-back, one-liner or In Medias Res is good.


ANACHRONISM In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. On the planet of Tralfalmador, all time happens simultaneously. Many postmodern novels violate the expectations of time, space, and even logic itself.


Obscenity and pornography are bad. But scatology, eroticism, and innuendo are good.


INNUENDO 1 Bill Barnes tells about a sketch he wrote about a woman who sold popcorn. The guy’s line was 'her popcorn’s fairly fresh.' He says that he got into a particular frame of mind, and everything got to be a little naughty--


INNUENDO 2 '…everything having to do with popcorn. Like, 'maybe a little old, well, but with melted butter, who can tell?' It just got very double entendre, and it had a lot of funny sounds in it' (Qtd. in Fry, 151)


Overstatement is bad. But hyperbole (intentional overstatement) is good.


HYPERBOLE Ed Hercer says, 'Comedy is to the mind what caricature is to the eye. A good caricature artist can spot those characteristics and define his subject and then exaggerate them, put a new perspective on them again, almost make them grotesque. Yet the recognizability is never destroyed. In fact; it is often enhanced. It is sometimes easier to recognize a celebrity from a well-executed caricature than from a portrait' (qtd. in Helitzer 165).


Redundancy and repetition are bad. But a tautology (as in a dictionary definition) and redundancy can be good.


REDUNDANCY There was an old lady of Ryde Who ate some green apples, and died. The apples fermented Inside; they lamented Made cider inside ‘er inside. (Espy 170)


A slip of the tongue, or an incorrect word choice is bad. But a malapropism, a spoonerism, or a Bunkerism is good.


SLIPS OF THE TONGUE 'the acts of God' becomes 'the ax of God' 'Pulitzer Prize' becomes 'pullet surprise' 'of thee I sing' becomes 'of the icing' 'Gladly Thy Cross I’d Bear' becomes 'Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear' 'Round Yon Virgin' becomes 'Round Eyed Virgin' 'Pontius Pilate' becomes 'Pontius Pilot' (Fromkin 233)


A spelling error is bad. But cacography (intentionally bad writing) is good.


CACOGRAPHY 'In nineteenth-century American humor…the immediate imposition of that generic sign of the unserious, iz, instantly changes the lens in our attention to the text, lowers our gaze, and suffuses the `ideational content,’ the brick, whatever, with the warm glow of a tolerable miztake.'


! 'Humorists must wrest their writing from proper writing, and this they do in a style that enhances speech values and sets these values against the perspective values of writing' (Schmitz 27)


!! Understatement is bad. But litotes (intentional understatement) is good.


!!!LITOTES Left to our own devices, we Wobegonians go straight for the small potatoes. Magestic doesn’t appeal to us; we like the Grand Canyon better with Clarence and Arlene parked in front of it, smiling.' (Keillor 69)


References 1: Berger, Arthur Asa. The Art of Comedy Writing. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997. Christ, Henry C. Language and Literature. New York, NY: Harcourt, 1972. Eschholz, Paul, and Alfred Rosa, eds. Subject and Strategy, 2nd Edition Boston, MA: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Fromkin, Victoria A., ed. Errors in Linguistic Performance: Slips of the Tongue, Ear, Pen, and Hand. New York, NY: Academic Press, 1980. Fry, William F. Jr., and Melanie Allen. Make ‘Em Laugh: Life Studies of Lonely Writers. New York, NY: Science, 1976.


References 2: Grotjahn, Martin. Beyond Laughter: Humor and the Subconscious. New York, NY: McGraw, 1966. Helitzer, Melvin, ed. Comedy Techniques for Writers and Performers. Athens, OH: Lawhead, 1984. Keillor, Garrison. 'Lonesome Whistle Blowing.' Time 4 (Nov. 1985): 68-73. Lindfors, Judith Wells. Children’s Language and Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980. Mueller, Robert Kirk. 'The Use (and Abuse) of Buzzwords.' For Members Only: A Newsletter for American Express Cardmembers 1.4 (1985): 4.


References 3: Nash, Ogden. Marriage Llnes: Notes of a Student Husband. New York, NY: Little, Borwn, 1964. Nilsen, Don L. F. 'Using Humorous Language to Teach Literary Principles.' Teaching English in the Two-Year College 14.2 (1987): 98-105. Schmitz, Neil. Of Huck and Alice: Humorous Writing in American Literature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Schwartz, Alvin, comp. Flapdoodle. New York, NY: Lippincott, 1980. Wells, Carolyn, ed. A Parody Anthology. New York, NY: Scribner, 1904.

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