Friday, March 16, 2007

Rhetorical Intimidation

I've noticed that many experts, and other people interested in asserting authority, will use what I call rhetorical intimidation to gain the upper hand in a dispute. One way they do this is through the use of certain expressions. Here are some examples I can think of:

"Pure and simple" -- As in, "This is theft, pure and simple." This is sometimes used to add artificial certainty to an assertion, to make things seem black-and white.

"Just plain wrong" -- Used in similar ways to "pure and simple" to impose an oversimplified certainty to your own side in an argument.

"There is no dispute that ...." -- Followed sometimes by a statistic, sometimes simply by the speaker's opinion. My immediate urge when I hear this is to respond with, "I hereby dispute you."

"Nonsense" -- Used to describe someone else's idea and to position your own as superior.

"Utter" -- This one occurred to me just now, as it is sometimes used with a word like "nonsense" or "hogwash" to make the other person's idea sound even more unreliable.

"Pseudo-science" -- Used to describe an area of inquiry that conflicts with your own deeply-held opinions. A celebrity not long ago used this term to disparage psychiatry. It is often used to describe any investigation into the paranormal, and is sometimes used by partisans on either side of the evolution-intelligent design debate to describe one another's models.

AB -- 16 March 2007

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