Tag Archives: George Psalmanazar

Dark arts of rhetoric illustrated

In my post on the dark arts of rhetoric, I proposed the following rule:

If X is the real target of your scorn, don’t compare X to something worse; instead, find excuses to compare other things to X in a way that presupposes a negative opinion of X.

Today I ran across a perfect example of this technique (from a student essay, quoted with permission).

Psalmanazar was a complicated character. There was a sense in which he was a sort of 18th-century Ward Churchill, basing his entire life around fraudulently posing as a member of an exotic race. Yet there was more to him than that; Samuel Johnson — no mean judge of character — once called him the best man he had ever known.

Secret: The point here is to slam Churchill, not to say anything in particular about Psalmanazar. The reader sees “nuanced assessment” (of GP) when actually it’s an extreme assessment of WC.

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Footnote for those not in the know: George Psalamanazar was an 18th-century European, probably a Frenchman, whose whole life was an elaborate hoax in which he posed as a native of Formosa. (Wikipedia sums him up best. “Occupation: memoirist. Known for: being an outrageous impostor.”) Ward Churchill is a professional jackass and former professor of ethnic studies whose greatest accomplishment to date has been getting tenure via affirmative action by pretending to be an American Indian.

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