Help me, Help me! I’ve been attacked by an “ENTHYMEME!”

11 Sep

A friend recounted a recent example of an attack of ‘unreasonableness’ aka – Where’s the Logic??? in everyday life.  Her conversation at the Eye Doctor’s went like this:

Customer:  What’s this charge?

Optometrist’s Clerk: That’s the “Contact Lens Consulting Fee”

Customer:  But there was no consultation, like last time. Why does it show up on my statement this time, since all I’m doing is ordering more contacts?

Clerk:  Well, you paid it last time!

My friend quickly recognized that she was going to have re-visit THIS bill if she didn’t want to be overcharged.  What actually happened was an improper use of enthymemes!

An enthymeme (pronounced EN-TA-MEME) is an informal argument that has an unstated premise.

We often rely on enthymemes to communicate quickly.  When my husband and his brother were kids, their mom had a routinized supper schedule.  That is to say that she served the same main course on the same weekday each week.  So if you smelled fish sticks, it was probably Friday.   Here’s how a typical conversation progressed:

Steve:  Hey, Bro, what do you think Mom is fixing for dinner tonight?     

Mike:  It’s Tuesday, Dufus, what do you think?

And Steve immediately realized that they were in for liver and onions. Yuk!

So what’s the unstated premise in my friend’s Eye Care office?

  • If we can get you to pay a charge today, you’ll probably pay it next time without batting an eye.

Unfortunately, they and many others probably DO get away with this deliberately deceptive practice.

As the Romans taught:  “Caveat Emptor!” or let the buyer beware!    

But don’t think that ALL who employ enthymemes are trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

As parents, we OFTEN resort to enthymemes to remind our children of what they already know.

Imagine a typical Saturday morning.  Mom is on her hands and knees cleaning the oven when Johnny tiptoes down the stairs headed toward the front door.     

Mom (who has eyes in the back of her head): And where do you think you’re going, Young Man?

Johnny:  To Billy’s house

Mom:  Is your room clean?

Johnny:  silence….(as he turns around and clumps angrily up the stairs.)

What just got communicated was a truthful and very effective and logical corrective with only one premise (# 2)

Premise 1:  On Saturdays, no one leaves the house until they have cleaned their room

Premise 2:  Johnny hasn’t cleaned his room yet

Conclusion:  Therefore, Johnny is going NOWHERE!

When you have someone employ an enthymeme on YOU, you have every right to ask him or her to articulate the unstated premise(s).Then you can challenge the truth if necessary.

Happy thinking!

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