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Fiat Lux

Light. The first Light. “Let there be Light,” said the Lord God, and it was so.

Big Stuff, Deep Stuff, Heavy Stuff

We live among immensities of time and space. Sometimes the question is not so much how we manage to grasp those immensities, but how we entertain that knowledge without just blanking out, clicking off, like a spaniel trying to understand quadratic equations (woof?).

This, That, and the Other Thing

Ok, we’re done with the argumentums, and I thank you for indulging me. To make it up to you, none of that will be on the test, ok? This week a potpourri, a grab bag, some stuff that I have been filing away but none of enough moment for a full wonk. At least I don’t think so. Best put on your Kevlar vest, because we are talking bullet points.

Shining Heroes and Dastardly Villains

Can you stand one more wonk on argumentum ad populum? That’s the spirit. After this one I will put my hobby horse in the stable and bar the door.


So the trope babies and I were having a grand time analyzing Mark Antony’s famous speech in Julius Caesar (Power to the People). Such a grand time, in fact, that I decided that we should have a whack at Brutus’s speech that precedes it. So we did and, caught up in the spirit, I decided to read the whole play. I hope that’s not quite as derelict as it sounds. I had read the play once, but in high school, and one forgets much in half a century.

Power to the People

The heavyweight of all the argumentums, it seems to me, is the argumentum ad populum, the appeal to the crowd, to their passions and biases. If you need your rabble roused and you are an accomplished word man, ad populum will do the trick. What makes it so versatile, as we shall see, is that it often drags in other argumentums, especially ad misericordiam and ad hominem. Long before sociologists began to study crowd psychology, orators knew well how to exploit it. People en masse are easily swayed, their buttons easily pushed.


At some point in the tropes course—last week, this time around—we study the argumentums, which are great things to hang tropes on. I’m talking about such familiar terms as argumentum ad hominem, argumentum ad populum, argumentum ad ignorantium, and so forth (no, I am not going to add ad nauseam, although it seems sometimes that it ought to be included).

A Rose by Any Other Name

In a recent column Tom and Ray Magliozzi, my favorite car guys, said of a certain unethical mechanic that he had earned a place on their “fecal roster.” I chuckled all morning over that felicitous rephrasing of “sh*t list,” and even sent it to a couple of friends. I am calling that a euphemism, and I would like to talk about euphemism this week, along with its evil twin, dysphemism. We seem incapable of calling a spade a spade.

When Metaphors Go Bad

Last week (Metaphors Be With You) I signed off with a question: “If metaphor is a strategy for thought, what are we to make of [mixed, butchered, metaphors]?” I’m still trying to answer my own question. What does “Spare the rod, spoil the broth” tell us about the person who offers us that piece of garbled wisdom? And that fellow who protested, “It’s not rocket surgery!”...what, as your mother used to wonder, was he thinking? The dismissive answer, I suppose, is that neither of them was thinking at all.

Metaphors Be With You

Yesterday in the tropes course we talked about that most basic and ubiquitous of tropes, metaphor. Unlike, say, epitrope, everyone has heard of metaphor (which doesn’t even need to be italicized anymore) and has a rough idea of what it is and does. Metaphor translates as “to carry across”: in practice it means to liken something to something else. It has been called the identity trope: an explicit likening (“My love is like a red, red rose”) is a simile; an implicit likening, which looks like an identity (“Charlie is a pig!”) is a metaphor.

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