Friday, 04 April 2008

In What Follows I Will Write About Signposts I will begin this post about signposting by tracing the history of signposts. The unknown author of the Rhetorica ad Herrenium, a Latin rhetorical text long attributed to Cicero, states that every argument ought to open with an expositio. Before I continue, I should define what an expositio is. An expositio is a brief statement at the beginning of an oration in which an orator outlines the three issues he will address with his argument.* Contemporary scholars still follow the model Peter Elbow calls "the old perverse chestnut" ("Reflections on Academic Discourse" 144). Now that I have told what a signpost is and related its long and storied history I will demonstrate why they are useful in academic prose. In this paragraph I will demonstrate that signposts are useful in academic prose because they alert readers what you are about to argue and when you have proven your point. I will also prove that signposts make you sound smart because if you know what you want to write before you write it you are hot shit. I will address the second point first. Most people when they write cannot include signposts because they do not know what they want to say when they sit down to write. Only very intelligent people are capable of being what Thomas Murray defines as "the morphological metathesis of hot shit" ("The Language of Naval Fighter Pilots" 128). Now that I have definitively proven that intelligent people are hot shit I will address the first point. The first point of this paragraph was that signposts are useful because they inform readers what you will argue and when you are done arguing it. I am now done arguing it. This paragraph will register my annoyance with what I take to be the overabundance of signposts in academic prose. But before I do that I want to mention the one respect in which signposts are essential. Without signposts it would be difficult to introduce utterly irrelevant material into the body of your work. Maybe you would like to impress someone with your erudition and need to introduce a quotation demonstrating you have read a very difficult book. Or maybe you have simply stumbled upon a newspaper article whose title is too great not to share. I would argue that the following is a salient example of one such article: Were it not for the mighty power of the signpost I would not have been able to shoehorn the title of that article into this post.** In the previous paragraphs I have defended the usefulness of the signpost in academic prose. The inclusion of that headline demonstrates that signposts are both useful and awesome. Now I will transition to the conclusion of this post by telling you that I am transitioning to the conclusion of this post. And here I am at the conclusion like I told you I would be. In this conclusion I will recapitulate what I have I already proven in the paragraphs above. The...
More Unfortunate Phrasing, Only Now Concerning Homeopathy (Or Something) In the comments to yesterday's post, I mentioned that while the phrase obviously had great currency, its meaning is elusive. I should've spoken more forcefully, as further research convinces me I have absolutely no idea what that phrase means. Consider this passage from W.H. Burgess's Chronic Disease (1907): A doctor in Maine writes: "I read your book with profound interest, not thinking of 'a nigger in the woodpile' until I came to your drug list. But he looks like a good nigger, so here goes my check for the first order. And if what you sell accords with what you say other orders will follow." Another doctor writes: " I have used your tablets for two years and do not see how I ever practiced without them," and incloses a $15 order. A great many have written: "I cannot practice without your drugs." Old men retired from practice, who had taken drugs for their infirmities until drugging lost its effect, finding relief and a new lease on life and health from the use of the congenials, have written long letters that bring the tears to our eyes. One suffering with spinal disease, caused by nerve tension, wrote that he must die, but his work was not done. Bichromate of potash and veratrum relaxed the tension, and Epsom water application to the spine every night neutralized the toxins that made the tension, kept down every vestige of inflammation and gave ease and sleep and cured the spinal trouble and set him on his feet again with the power to finish his work. It was our tablets Nos. 3 and 5 which did the work. The doctor said it was a good nigger in our woodpile. He is right; there is no other nigger like ours. Our nigger tries to be as white as he can, and if he was somewhere else you could not tell that he is one. He is not obliged to hide in the woodpile, like the niggers of the great manufacturing concerns, neither is he afraid of the officers like the coons in the medical trust; he never stole a chicken in his life and fears no one. It was necessary for him to take charge of the woodpile, we have use for him there, and what pleases us so much is that he feels his importance and will not associate with other niggers or the "common white folks," but will run to meet a doctor any time and calls him " Boss." [...] If it were not for our little nigger, our work must be left to the mercy of the character that has no mercy. If we allow our calcium to be deprived of the sharp alkaline sting on the tongue, and everything soluble to be leached from our chalk, and to have our sudorifics and stimulants totally destroyed by incorporated anodynes, then our work is a failure, and we might have been the servant of theory as well as truth, and the obligations we...

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