Tag Archives: Rhetoric

Logical Gal and the audacity of an adjective

1 Jul


Adjectives were boring until Saturday.

That’s when I learned about the power they employ.  I’m sure you can recite along with me the same answer…

  • to this question:   What is the function of an adjective?
  • and the answer is:  An adjective modifies a noun

So what’s the big deal? It’s that verb ‘to modify’ – so innocuous!

The speaker at the weekend conference who got me to consider adjectives was a former English professor (does anyone STOP teaching English?).  In her talk on Saturday she explained that the function of an adjective was to CHANGE a noun.

That startled me!  Switching from the familiar verb ‘modify’ to the more powerful synonym  ‘change’  set off a small explosion of  implications that coursed through my mind.

Change - Angel of death

Not all adjectives drastically alter a noun.  For example, take the phrase  ‘stay-at-home dad‘.    The man is still a ‘dad’, whether he is the primary care giver for his children or not.  Adding the adjectival ‘changer’ doesn’t detract or add from the ‘pure’ definition of the concept ‘dad’.  But what about that old term women (and men!) often used 40 years ago when they felt ashamed of being a stay-at-home mom.  Someone came up with the phrase ‘domestic engineer’ to be used by a mom/wife desiring to lend gravitas to what she did every day.  Did anyone REALLY think she was an engineer?  Only in the euphemistic sense.  I am guessing that few Engineering Schools or departments teach courses on running a household.

Domestic Engineer



Why is this important, the playing around with adjectives?

Because how we define institutions and groups figures prominently in the news these days.  Marriage, faith and politics are not neutral topics of little import.  The rhetoric is intense and emotions are high.  Words matter, especially adjectives.

Question: What striking example can you provide of an adjective changing the original or ontological sense of a noun? 


Scrabble - every word counts



Logical Gal dismantles those pithy rhetorical punchlines

3 Mar

Rhetorical Devices

Sometimes an opponent will zing out a line so clever, so smooth that you swallow it whole and wonder what hit you.  That’s the power of rhetoric.

Not all rhetoric is bad.  In fact, if you want someone to be persuaded by truth, you have to package it, or present it with rhetorical skill.  Aristotle taught his students how to employ effectively LOGOS, ETHOS and PATHOS.  The logos is the actual content, the ethos is a combination of the accuracy of both YOUR authority/credentials or those of the experts you draw upon as well as the quality of your character. Finally pathos is the ‘why you should care’ factor.

But long are the days when an audience listened patiently as an orator skillfully presented a case. Today, in our sound bite culture, we swing snatches of words.

So how does a Logical Joe or Jane parse out one of those ‘fly-by’ explanations that masquerade as arguments?

Sound Bites and Slogans

Last week we took apart the clever line, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations!” (see preceding 28 Feb 2014 post)  Today I would like to address a criticism against God as He is presented in the Bible:

How is eternal punishment for a temporal crime fair?!

At first glance it doesn’t seem fair.  This question is short enough for someone to thrust out there, pause and just let settle in.

The seeming injustice comes from our idea that a punishment should fit the crime.  So we must actually think a bit deeper.  The responses I heard today in a podcast interview made sense.

I offer them as a way to get a handle on a sensitive and difficult issue.

First, time of punishment v. time it took to commit the crime is irrelevant.  How long does it take for a speeding bullet to kill an innocent person?  Yet if convicted, a criminal may spend a lifetime in prison.

Second, whom the crime is committed against makes the difference.

Let’s say one person slaps another.


In the first instance, a big brother might get TIME OUT!…. as a punishment.

But what if an employee slapped his boss?  The stakes would be higher.  I’m pretty sure he’d be fired on the spot!

Well let’s suppose a more risky situation.  You’re at the White House for a State Dinner.  As you approach the President in the receiving line to shake hands, you haul off, intending to slap him. Probably even before your hand neared his ear, you’d be wrestled to the ground and hauled off to jail and charged with something serious.

Do you see what is happening?  The severity of the crime DEPENDS  on the one it is committed against.

So now let’s consider the Creator of the entire universe.  One of His created beings whom He lovingly fashioned in His image rebels all his life and refuses to have anything to do with the One who gave him life. Despite messages and countless ways to get his attention, God’s overtures are ignored or even scorned.

Just like citizens cannot expect to ignore a court summons and get away with it, neither can we turn our back on God and not expect a consequence.

Yes, eternal punishment is categorically different than life in prison, but God the Creator is in a different class all together from any created thing or being.

It takes some time to think through pithy lines, but it’s worth it.  The more we practice the skill of thinking, the better we get at it.

Question:  Which arguments are you having difficulties unraveling?