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SCENARIO ONE

PRESIDENT. I want you to give me seventeen trillion dollars for the new space program.

CONGRESS. Are you kidding? He's nuts. I can't believe he actually said that. What's the matter with you? Are you out of your mind? No way. No way. Forget it. Don't even think about it.

PRESIDENT. Well, then at least give me ten billion for the Free Hookers for Senators program.

CONGRESS. Well, that at least sounds reasonable. A bit steep, perhaps, but, hey, at least it sounds a sane as opposed to the other one.

Now the whole purpose of the exercise was to get the ten billion for the hookers. The President expected them to turn down the first one.

SCENARIO TWO

An article in a major newspaper reads: "Even such benighted country bumpkins as the natives of Austin, Texas, know that the most important thing in the world is not to allow Donald Trump to get elected."

The purpose here was to convince everybody that people who live in Austin are benighted country bumpkins. The author knew that the second point (the Trump issue) was going to infuriate everybody (for various reasons), allowing the first point (giving Austin a bad reputation) to sink unnoticed directly into the readers' subconscious.

My question is: is there a term for this trick (okay, rhetorical device)? Bonus question: did the Greeks know about it? Did THEY have a name for it?

  • These are two separate phenomena. I suggest you submit them separately. I have answered the one that I know the answer to. The first is a sales technique (I don't know the name but I expect there is one). The second is called presupposition -- see my answer. – chasly from UK Oct 28 '15 at 8:39
  • The first one reads more like a joke than a rhetorical device, but, as for the general umbrella, I think you may be talking about logical fallicies. – J.R. Oct 28 '15 at 9:31
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    Isn't the first one just a normal negotiation tactic? (See "highball".) And I don't know about the Greeks, but it wasn't unheard of in Roman times. – JHCL Oct 28 '15 at 9:35
  • @Ricky Scenario One sounds like sugarcoating to me, i.e. making something unpleasant; say, more palatable. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/sugar+the+pill – Elian Oct 28 '15 at 10:13
  • @JHCL That's exactly what it is, highballing. – A.P. Oct 28 '15 at 10:19
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SCENARIO TWO

An article in a major newspaper reads: "Even such benighted country bumpkins as the natives of Austin, Texas, know that the most important thing in the world is not to allow Donald Trump to get elected."

The purpose here was to convince everybody that people who live in Austin are benighted country bumpkins. The author knew that the second point (the Trump issue) was going to infuriate everybody (for various reasons), allowing the first point (giving Austin a bad reputation) to sink unnoticed directly into the readers' subconscious.

In linguistics, this is known technically as a presupposition.

In the branch of linguistics known as pragmatics, a presupposition (or ps) is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse.

Wikipedia

Note that this is often employed as a technique by lawyers trying to catch out a witness and by salespeople trying to slip an assumption past the customer. It is one of the well-known techniques deliberately employed in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).

One type of presupposition occurs in the loaded question, e.g. the famous "Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer Yes or No." to which either answer is incriminating.

  • Thank you, this is very close to what I'm looking for. Presupposition is an fascinating phenomenon that includes many ... uh ... branches, for lack of a better word. You demonstrated two: the lawyer's trick and the salesman's trick. The latter is closer. The salesperson slips an assumption past the customer, the journalist's purpose (in this case) is to plant a seed for suspicion, resentment, etc: he's trying to DISCREDIT something or someone in his or her reader's mind forever. It is a propaganda technique. There's gotta be a name for it. – Ricky Oct 28 '15 at 9:09
  • Well 'presupposition' is the name for it. It certainly is a propaganda technique as you say. If you want to be specific, you could call it 'a propagandist presupposition' or 'a slanderous presupposition'. Or have you definitely heard another word for it? I'm not aware of another term. – chasly from UK Oct 28 '15 at 9:14
  • No, I haven't, and that's what puzzles me. It's frustrating. I run across it in the media pretty often, this "slanderous presupposition," so much so that I'm beginning to suspect there's a course every journalist must take before applying for a job on a "reputable" rag. It's so ubiquitous that I find it hard to believe there is no term for it, which could only mean that it's comparatively new. I mean, brainwashing has been with us forever, and journalism as we know it is at least thee hundred years old. Go figure. – Ricky Oct 28 '15 at 10:16
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As pointed out by @JHCL in the comments, in Scenario One we have a case of what looks like highballing. I don't think this qualifies as a rhetorical device.

These are sales or negotiation tactics in which you first ask for a much larger amount (without putting off the other party), then take the number down a few notches to get them to agree.

(http://changingminds.org/disciplines/negotiation/tactics/highball.htm)

In Scenario Two we have two instances of hyperbole, as far as rhetorical devices go.

"Even such benighted country bumpkins as the natives of Austin, Texas, know that the most important thing in the world is not to allow Donald Trump to get elected."

Hyperbole:

A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect

(AHD)

Origin: from Greek huperbolē, meaning excess

Yes, with "benighted bumpkins" the author is throwing in a (relatively mild) insult into the bargain, but the device used is hyperbole. (Another hyperbole in the above sentence is "the most important thing in the world".)

In addition, we may have a couple of logical fallacies here.

A non-sequitur: just because the "benighted bumpkins" believe Trump is a poor candidate does not mean he is. This is an implied conclusion that does not follow from the premises.

Another possible logical fallacy here is argumentum ad populum. The faulty reasoning seems to be "everybody thinks Trump is a poor candidate, even the bumpkins, therefore it's true".

protected by tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 0:08

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