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Rhetorically speaking…
Speechwriters Blog on Speechwriting

‘Dirty Rats’

Mildly amused to see all this fuss about Harriet Harman calling Danny Alexander a ‘ginger rodent’.

Everyone’s alighting on the ‘ginger’ part of the gag but I’m more interested in the ‘rodent’.

Vermin metaphors are extraordinarily powerful and emotive rhetorical devices. They’re most frequently used by people who want to suggest either overtly or unconsciously that extermination is the only option.

So vermin metaphors are used by Mafia bosses to talk about informers (’rats’). They were used by the Hutu to talk about the Tutsi in the Rwandan genocide (’cockroaches’). They were also used extensively by Hitler to talk about the Jews in Mein Kampf. He talked about the Jews as a ‘horde of rats, fighting bloodily among themselves‘.

So Harriet is following her dear friend Polly in likening the Condems to the Nazis, albeit unconsciously. First, Polly apologised. Now, Harriet apologised.

Good on them both for apologising - surely the right course - but if they’d bought my book on Speechwriting, they’ve have known better than to use these metaphors in the first place….

Posted by Simon Lancaster on October 30th, 2010 :: Filed under Random
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