The Uses and Abuses of Dyslogistic Phrasing

Laura Sneddon at comicbookGRRRL offers a moving condemnation of DC Comics’ decision to hire Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story. I couldn’t agree more with her conclusion:woman in black clothes and red cape and blue shoes posed as if flying

When the greatest hero of all is written by someone like Card, the entire industry is shamed to the core. Card’s views would disgust Superman, just as they should disgust the best in all of us. And just as they should disgust and shame DC.

Sneddon’s post also offers a good example of the difference between responsible and irresponsible uses of language with negative connotation. In The New Rhetoric, Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca call such language dyslogistic (as opposed to positive or eulogistic) following Jeremy Bentham in his text The Book of Fallacies.

My interest here is not with matters of decorum or civility. Some will say that calling out bigotry is indecorous, but that is a discussion for another post. Here I’m more interested in the accuracy of the negative terms more than the negative connotations themselves.

Some of those supporting Card and DC’s decision have inaccurately accused Card’s critics of censorship and intolerance. However, as Sneddon explains, choosing not to support DC is not censorship nor is disagreeing with Card’s odious beliefs and activism intolerance. She describes supporters of Card who:

asked whether we would stop reading all comics written by those with opposing viewpoints, as if homophobia was nothing more than a difference of opinion rather than an oppressive hatred of others, or why it was that the tolerant in society were really the intolerant, as if bigotry was something to applaud as brave or bold.

Glen Weldon at NPR mentions another example where a defender of DC accused those vowing not to buy the book of engaging in “witch hunt” type thinking, to which Weldon responds:

I mean, I generally associate the term “witch hunt” with innocent people getting falsely accused and pressed to death by stones, not with one hugely successful millionaire bigot having to explain to his accountant why a side-project made an infinitesimal amount less money than he’d hoped it would….

Some think DC is right, or, to put it more eulogistically, justified. Some think DC is wrong, or, dyslogically, shameful. For our arguments to have any chance of helping us understand what others believe and explaining why positions are right or wrong, our language needs to accurately represent those positions. Those who wish to support DC in its (IMO wrong-headed) decision should feel free to do so, but they should also be accurate in their condemnations.

Image Credit: thesuperheroquest CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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About Todd Battistelli

Rhetorician and writing teacher. Keeping an eye on the state of civic discourse.
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