In this type of riposte, you use your opponent's words, but rearrange them to be in your favor. For example, the story about Diogenes eating lentils:

Aristippus: "If you would learn to be subservient to the king, you wouldn't have to live off of lentils."
Diogenes: "If you would learn to live off of lentils, you wouldn't have to be subservient to the king."

I think the name has something to do with "Pyrrhic", but I'm not sure.

  • A punic riposte? – Peter Point Oct 16 '16 at 4:42
  • Either of those phrases would be Pyrrhic but not in the way you might have hoped. Without turning anyone's words back on themselves, a Pyrrhic victory is one won at such cost that it might have been better to lose… worse even than the mounds of dead and dying which led Wellington to say next to a battle lost, the saddest thing was a battle won. Only in that sense, some might see living off lentils as a high price for partial freedom; subservience a lot to pay for the finest feast. – Robbie Goodwin Oct 30 '16 at 0:09

How about antistrophon or antimetabole?


From The Phrontistery:

antistrophon: turning of opponent's own argument against them.

From The Free Dictionary:

antistrophon: an argument that is retorted against an opponent


From yourdictionary.com, examples of rhetorical devices:

antimetabole: repeats words or phrases in reverse order. Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” (J. F. Kennedy)

From Wikipedia:

In rhetoric, antimetabole (/æntᵻməˈtæbəliː/ an-ti-mə-tab-ə-lee) is the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order (e.g., "I know what I like, and I like what I know"). It is identical to the modern sense of chiasmus, although the classical chiasmus did not necessarily use repetition, but only in some cases. An easier way of understanding what an antimetabole means is comparing it to the commutative property of addition and multiplication. This means that for example, a + b = b + a. In terms of applying this property to language, an example would be, dance to live, not live to dance. Also an antimetabole does not just have to be simple words switched around, they can also be clauses placed in the middle of sentences that are reversed. For example, “Some people say I am bad at mathematics because it is not my favorite subject, but in reality, mathematics is not my favorite subject because I am bad at it.” An antimetabole is also said to be a little too predictive because it is easy to reverse the key term, but they pose questions that one usually would not think of if the phrase was just asked or said the initial way. [emphasis added]

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  • @LeafyGreens Good. There are many rhetorical terms out there. – Richard Kayser Oct 16 '16 at 16:08
  • Although now I'm wondering why I thought it had to do with "Pyrrhic"... – Leafy Greens Oct 16 '16 at 16:55
  • @LeafyGreens Perhaps you were thinking of Pyrrhic victory. – Richard Kayser Oct 16 '16 at 17:06

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