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There was the following quote of Rush Limbaugh’s apology (or nonapology) in the New York Times’ article (March 2nd) reporting that he sorried for his denouncing a Georgetown University law student as a “prostitute,” under the title “Obama backs student in furor with Limbaugh on birth control.

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” Mr. Limbaugh wrote.”

What does “illustrate the absurd with absurdity” exactly mean? We have idiomatic phrases “愚を重ねる- overlay the folly (with folly), and “恥の上塗り-overlay shame (with shame)” in Japanese.

Does “illustrate the absurd with absurdity” mean to repeat or overlay one’s absurdity, or to prove one’s being absurd by committing another absurdity?

Is the phrase “illustrate the absurd with absurdity” a set phrase, or just a Limbaugh’s special rhetoric?

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Do you have a link to the article? – jwpat7 Mar 4 '12 at 6:58
@jwpat7. My apology. It was New York Times article written by Brian Stelter. But the title of the article wasn’t “Obama backs student in furor with Limbaugh on birth control,” but was “Limbaugh Sorry for Attack on Student in Birth Control Furor,” and issue date was March 3, not March 2. I confounded it with the title of the previous day’s article, “Obama backs student in furor with Limbaugh on birth control. Link of the article in question is www.nytimes.com/pages/national/index.html – Yoichi Oishi Mar 4 '12 at 11:06
To illustrate the absurd with absurdity isn't at all common phrasing, but to use reductio ad absurdum is probably what Limbaugh means, and that is common. – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '12 at 17:32
@FumbleFingers. Your hint that Limbaugh had “reductio ad absurdum” in his mind in making his apology is helpful, and makes the intent of his message clearer to me. His logic was mandating health insurance to cover contraceptives for women is absordum, therefore Ms Fluke who publicly supports the plan is absordum (and a slut!). And he acknowledged that he had chosen the wrong word in his analogy of the situation. – Yoichi Oishi Mar 4 '12 at 21:54
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Oishi-san, he means something like a paraphrase of the idiom "to fight fire with fire" — in other words, he sees something he feels is absurd and he responds in kind (or so he maintains).

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+1 for the "or so he maintains" ;-) – Pitarou Mar 3 '13 at 7:20

Rush Limbaugh's show is all about taking a topic, concept, or point of view that he finds to be absurd and then attempting to show his listeners why he finds it absurd by using absurd examples to make his point- thus illustrating the absurd with absurdity.

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Jim has summed it up well. To answer your last question: no, it's not a common idiom; it's merely Limbaugh's way of saying it. – J.R. Mar 4 '12 at 9:18

A demonstration of "illustrating the absurd with absurdity" is the regular and frequent use of songs written and performed by Paul Shanklin. While technically, the songs are considered parody, the way they are inserted into the daily "Rush" dialogue, is a good example of what the quote suggests.

Whichever issue is at hand at the moment Rush inserts the song, his immediate point is highlighted by it through the absurdity of the lyrics, thereby "illustrating the absurd with absurdity".

A good example would be this:


Which is altogether even more absurd with yesterday's news. Yeah, it's an absurd illustration of absurdity!

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Rush Limbaugh uses a debate tactic dating back to the Romans called "Reductio ad absurdum" in Latin or "reduction to absurdity" in English. Wikipedia describes it as "to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance." My college debate coach described it as "to discount a statement by taking it to its most absurd extreme and then claim that is the only logical conclusion." An example is "serving sugary foods in school will result in all school children weighing 600lbs and dying from diabetes at age 12." It utilizes logical fallacy and is considered an underhanded debate tactic that may win an argument but does not really attempt to get to the truth of the matter.

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Your debate coach was quite right to characterize your 'sugary food' argument as underhanded, but quite wrong to call it a reductio ad absurdum; it is just a straw man. A reductio ad absurdum does not involve false attribution and is perfectly legitimate. – StoneyB Mar 3 '13 at 1:58
Mike, welcome to ELU. You started off with a coherent answer. But I'm with Stoney on this one - your example was incomprehensible. Also, reductio ad absurdum relies on logical consequence, not fallacy, which makes it a powerful tool. – Canis Lupus Mar 3 '13 at 4:53

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