Rhetoric


Author’s Note: I’m sort of on hiatus at the moment for various reasons – the main being that I’m in a writing slump. In the meantime, enjoy this tidbit of logic and language.

Recently, I taught my sophomores about qualification – the practice of using certain words to qualify generalizations, such as probably, generally, perhaps, etc. Qualifiers, in my opinion, are eminently important since they are the best way to avoid error (such as suggesting that all swans are white) and still make strong evidentiary claims.

But today I ran into an example of overqualification – that is, qualification where none is needed:

Very few of you [in the audience] has [sic] a coin in your pocket with only one side.

Cases such as this where qualifying a claim would indicate that a logical contradiction is possible show how qualification can sometimes end up in absurdity. No one needs to qualify claims about one-sided coins anymore than claims about being able to draw square circles or be married bachelors. If a statement is tautologous, then there is clearly no reason to qualify it.

Understatement of the century: I am an argumentative person. This is no truer than when I am on the Internet. (This strip is me.)

I have been arguing in various Internet forums – message boards, chat rooms, and more recently, facebook statuses/comments – ever since I really got into the Internet roughly 10 years ago. And I have very consistently noticed one trend in the most heated of battles that I feel I must speak out about. I call it the “more research” gambit.

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Okay, that title is meant to be a little obfuscatory: I’m not really talking about model teaching in the idiomatic sense of ideal teaching (or best practices).

I agree with and try to practice the idea that students often need a model to follow before they go off on their own doing something. It has been painfully obvious to me that the autoethnography assignment that I gave to my seniors is definitely one of those things, since these students are new to the term and have probably never read an autoethnography (or if they have, they probably didn’t know that it was called autoethnography).

The problem: there aren’t really any models of autoethnography out there that are readily available. Certainly, I don’t have any writing resources for this assignment, having cobbled together an assignment from information available online from Susan Bennett (which was actually provided to me last fall by a professor at my alma mater who has, unfortunately, not returned my E-mail asking for assistance in finding a model).

So what’s a teacher to do when there is no readily available model? You make one.

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Sometimes it’s fun to think about things seriously that might not be taken seriously by most people. If you’re one of those people who might think it absurd to think about the rhetoric of writings that are (probably justifiably) considered vandalism by most people, then you might not want to continue (although I hope you will). Caveat lector.

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