Student Material

Chapter 2: Language and rhetoric

Students’ material


Each of the following sentences is ambiguous. For each identify whether the ambiguity is lexical or syntactic.

  1. Mrs Brown was convicted of taking the boy from Hamilton public library in 2006.
  2. Solicitors, are your briefs exciting enough?
  3. His mum says he can’t do it.
  4. Woman attacked by sculpture of former mayor.
  5. Other arrests this week include a 54-year-old woman from Weymouth, who was arrested for shoplifting £60 worth of products from Weymouth Price Chopper and three Weymouth youths.
  6. A man cut off his leg with a disposable razor after dismantling it.
  7. Americans trust the police more than Canadians.
  8. Woman hit by car being serviced.
  9. Health Ministry Chief Officer for Biosecurity, Gail Simpson, said that the ‘sleepy’ mosquito was found on Monday during an inspection after the aircraft has been sprayed for insects. It had been flown to Christchurch for maintenance.
  10. In London the average mortgage has doubled in six years.


Identify whether each of the following sentences is either ambiguous or vague.

  1. His opinions are liberal.
  2. My government has put forward proposals that are fair.
  3. Charlotte is a very friendly dark tortoiseshell. She was left behind pregnant when her owners moved out and had eight kittens.
  4. All our employees will receive a large pay rise this year.
  5. Mrs Brown said that she was looking forward more than anything to returning home to be a mother before being whisked away as part of a deal with a women’s magazine.
  6. I find bald men attractive.
  7. A viewing area and information office for little blue penguins has been established at the car park at the start of the Headland Walkway.
  8. I’ll meet you at the court.
  9. She would think that, wouldn’t she – she’s a feminist.
  10. Some registered voters did not take the trouble to cast their ballot on election day.


Pick the quantifier in each of the following

  1. Not many of the students passed the mid-term test.
  2. 25% of consumers expect the economic outlook to worsen this year.
  3. Few city councillors oppose the proposal to hold street races in the central business district.
  4. She understood hardly any of the lectures.
  5. In my view, most of this country’s youth lack discipline.
  6. No man is an island.
  7. There were seven dwarfs and their friend, Snow White.
  8. Most of the time parents don’t listen properly to their children.
  9. Almost none of the beaches around here are safe for swimming.
  10. Every cat is a mammal.


Identify whether each of the following is a hard or a soft generalisation

  1. All passengers are subject to security checks.
  2. Generally, passengers prefer to keep their seatbelts fastened when seated.
  3. Generalisations are always false.
  4. Almost all of today’s students are dedicated to their studies and to their social lives.
  5. No employee found using the company’s email network inappropriately will be immune from discipline.
  6. He never gets his assignments finished on time because he’s always playing around with his Facebook pages.
  7. Every citizen must make a contribution to reducing carbon emissions.
  8. We almost always have fish and chips for dinner on Fridays.
  9. It’s unusual for her to be late. She’s usually here by now.
  10. Typically, we see these reactions in about 20% of patients.


Each of the following generalisations lacks a quantifier so that it may not be possible to tell at first glance whether it is intended as a hard or a soft generalisation. Indicate whether it is most likely to be true as a hard or as a soft generalisation.

  1. University in the UK has a Vice Chancellor (i.e. University President).
  2. Frogs are mammals.
  3. People like to see a friendly face.
  4. The weather in Washington is pleasant.
  5. Today’s students are dedicated to their studies.
  6. Regular exercise benefits your health.
  7. Applicants must provide an up-to-date curriculum vitae (i.e. résumé) and evidence of qualifications.
  8. Schools are too hard on students who have ‘inappropriate’ hairstyles, clothing or tattoos.
  9. Meals come as described, no substitutions.
  10. Cars must be equipped with snow tyres when the signs are illuminated.


Pick the correct name for each of these rhetorical ploys

  1. By scheduling the broadcast at 1 a.m., the broadcasters are censoring the show.
    a) buzzword
    b) scare quotes
    c) appeal to fear
  2. [on a ginger beer advertisement] Canada’s finest export ‘beer’
    a) trading on equivocation
    b) appeal to novelty
    c) scare quotes
  3. List your unwanted presents with u-sell, the World’s most successful internet auction site.
    a) direct attack
    b) appeal to popularity
    c) trading on equivocation
  4. Does your dog still do yoga? (accompanied by dog picture)
    a) many questions
    b) scare quotes
    c) appeal to cuteness
  5. The ‘sensitivities’ surrounding the proposed ID card scheme should not stand in the way of progress in protecting our country from extremists.
    a) buzzword
    b) appeal to fear
    c) scare quotes
  6. Sign up now for Trojan Firewall Protection, America’s most popular anti-virus protection!
    a) appeal to popularity
    b) trading on equivocation
    c) appeal to fear
  7. Give a little today to help children in poverty, if you don’t, who will? (accompanied by photo of said children)
    a) appeal to cuteness
    b) appeal to pity/compassion
    c) buzzword
  8. Our enemies’ weapons of mass destruction could be operational within forty minutes.
    a) appeal to fear
    b) trading on equivocation
    c) buzzword
  9. People say we have a moral duty to honour our commitments as global citizens and provide refugees with a safe haven. I say to you: look at all these people arriving here, making no contribution and sucking the taxpayer dry!
    a) scare quotes
    b) appeal to fear
    c) smokescreen
  10. Chocolate: Just eat it!
    a) hard sell/direct attack
    b) appeal to novelty
    c) buzzword


Without looking back at the relevant section, write a paragraph explaining the difference between primary and secondary connotation, giving two examples which illustrate how the distinction can matter to the critical thinker.


In the following sentences, indicate the words or phrases that are lexically ambiguous and rewrite each sentence in at least two ways so as to indicate, as precisely as possible, two alternative meanings.

a He wrote a successful book on reinforced concrete.

b Blind woman gets new kidney from Dad she hasn't seen in years.

c I've just noticed that Brian drives the same car as I do.

d That car has parking warden backwards on its window.

e Never say never again.

f It was blowing a gale and she faltered as she walked up the path, because it was so windy.

g I paint houses.

h Don't wear that dress out.

i Customers should note that our agents may not pay by credit card.

j Have your teeth straightened invisibly!

k Have your tyres rotated automatically.

l The man who had his left side removed is all right now.

m The main flaw in US intelligence is human intelligence.

n Of course, newspapers should comment on the private lives of ultra-famous celebrities, because of the public interest.

o Walking school buses are meant to make it safer for kids to walk to school, but walking school buses don't go far enough.

p Actor sent to gaol for not finishing sentence.

q We wonder who will be the prophets of the future.

r We have a new woman at the top of the international tennis ratings.

s The chief executive can't bear children.

t Survivor of Siamese twins joins parents

u Prostitutes appeal to Pope

v Teacher strikes idle kids

w I paint nudes.

x Adulterous husband admits to lying in bed.

y The Church has overlooked the unsightly rubbish tip for fifty years.

z My arm was broken in four places.



The following sentences are syntactically ambiguous.  Rewrite them so as to give the most plausible interpretation.  If two or more interpretations are equally plausible, give them all.  You may need to rearrange the word order and/or add words:

a Mary saw John with a magnifying glass.

b Every day, somebody gets killed on the roads.

c The skies are not cloudy all day.

d Parents rarely love their children because those children have free will.

e I am not coming because I need a break.

f Please pass on your suggested changes to the committee.

g You mustn't miss our big jacket and pants sell-out.

h The Prime Minister has demanded that the Housing Corporation consider an appeal against a Tenancy Tribunal decision allowing a tenant with gang connections to stay in her Auckland home.

i Some economists work in almost every area of government.

j Turkey condemns US resolution recognising 1915 massacre of Armenians as Genocide.

k There are more pigs than people in Denmark.

l Japanese developers hope to build a robot which can lift elderly people out of their beds by 2015.

m Michael scratched the car with a broken antenna.

n Kelly's mother thought that she was less committed to the business than she was.

o Somebody needs to drive us home.

p I like pudding more than you.

q A doxastic venture model of faith was proposed by Richard Swinburne (though not under that name).

r Is your life slipping on a downward spiral? Let the Church help!

s He greeted everybody with a smile.

t The Government wants fewer high-quality public servants.

u Women are better at shopping for food than men.

v I am thinking about a video marathon this weekend.

w Like most mentally retarded people, adolescents know the difference between right and wrong.

x Adulterous husband admits to lying in bed.

y Finish 4-in-1 Powerball cuts through grease and blasts away tough stains like lasagne.

z Lap belts in cars are more harmful to children than adults.



In each of the following cases, state whether the ambiguity is lexical, syntactic, or some kind of combination of the two.  Explain your answer as carefully as you can.

a In the following sentences, indicate the words or phrases that are lexically ambiguous and explain their possible meanings.

b No news is good news.

c He saw her duck.

d The examiners are refusing to return more than fourteen hundred test papers until fees are paid by students.



For each of the following, identify the quantifier and say whether the generalisation is soft or hard:

a Everybody ought to have a maid.

b A small number of creatures can mimic human speech.

c Just about nobody eats people these days.

d A number of you complained.

e All the world's a stage.

f Practically everything leaves me totally cold.

g Many arrows missed the target.

h 3-year-olds can walk, as a rule.

i There is not a man among you who knows or cares if I come or go.

j A few of the explorers survived.

k No news is good news.



Each of the following sentences expresses a generalisation, but its quantifier is missing.  For each sentence, if it is true as a hard generalisation, add an appropriate quantifier to make it a hard generalisation.  If it could only be true as a soft generalisation, add an appropriate quantifier to make it a soft generalisation.  (You might need to do a little bit of research in a few cases in order to get the right quantifier.)

a People like a house with character.

b People become presidents.

c People have visited the Eiffel Tower.

d People have contracted swine flu.

e People are hermits.

f In the 2008 United States Federal election, delegates to the Electoral College preferred the Republican candidate.

g Music is tuneful.

h Camels live in Australia.

i Human beings require food and water to stay alive.

j Human beings are capable of taking part in the human reproduction process.

k Men are fairly hairy.



Name the following rhetorical ploys.  (Some of the rhetorical ploys in this exercise may not have names that are discussed in the chapter.  In such cases, invent a name of your own for the rhetorical ploy.)

a Why do I need to know this?

b This Government's wealth creation scheme and new immigration policy are part of a general package which acknowledges the people who are hurting.

c When I first became a pastor, I used to say that God created the world out of nothing.  But a Church Elder in my first parish gently reminded me that this was not so; God created the universe out of his love.  So you should say: God created the universe out of nothing physical.

d I am writing to you because I was disappointed with my grade for your course.  If this grade goes on my record, I will not only fail the course, but also be forced to spend another year in this country, away from my family and unable to start work or support my younger brothers.  My Mother will have to pay for my extra tuition with money which she does not have.

e Some people wonder why newspapers have whole departments devoted to sports reporting while seriously lacking staff who research consumer issues.  I don't understand those people.  Sport is a huge part of Western culture and many people follow it avidly.  What's the problem?

f A special United Nations rapporteur recently investigated race relations in this country.  The rapporteur, who represents a United Nations committee that is about to be disbanded, claims that Central Government has failed in its duty to ethnic minorities.

g Before you decide to walk away from our garage sale empty-handed, why not consider purchasing some of these quaint, antique, kitchen appliances?

h Thanks for lending me your rather new car.  The good news is that your air bags work quite well.

i I suppose we could just stay stuck in the same rut and teach the class on rhetorical ploys the way we always do.

j Of course, there's always the tried and true way that we have always taught the class on rhetorical ploys.

k If anyone wants to appreciate why the West views with such suspicion the weapons programmes of Muslim states such as Iran, they need look no further than the intolerance Muslim regimes exhibited to the cartoons depicting Muhammad, and what this portends.

l "False Beards can be Cheaper than Real Ones" is Irish Murdoch's latest companion to low-cost, high-yield living.  Get yours now.

l A steep flight of steps leads from the road to the cliffside entrance to our cathedral.  We must take immediate action and install a ramp from the roadside to the cathedral entrance before somebody ends up with a slipped disc or hernia.

m Undisciplined rabble leave our schools with neither manners nor an education.  Say no, to laws against smacking children!

n Vegetarianism is gluttony, the gluttony of delicacy to have your food and drink served to you just the way you want it, no matter what inconvenience it causes others.

o When the Flat Whites and their supporters relax after a tough international test match, they tuck into Friar's sweet potato wedges.  Go and do likewise!

p Say no to plastic bags.

q Even a couple of cabinet members are "helping the police with their inquires".

r Do something nice for your family.  Next time you go shopping, buy a personal basketball system.

s Andrea's Burmese cats love her.  You should love her too - and vote her in as Student Welfare Officer.

t TV news readers Steve Butch and Annie Owens: Back together for our baby.

u Lots of youngsters these days stream out of the school gate at three or three thirty and then go straight on to after school tuition: extra mathematics, remedial reading, or whatever.  Why they need all this extra help is not for me to say, but it's interesting that the children of teachers are very highly represented among those who attend these extra lessons.

v Everybody's finally moved on from the terrorist attacks of the turn of the century.  We all know that travel is safe again.  See the world! It's the thing to see!

w Just a couple short weeks ago, an overly emotional House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned the American people about the level of rhetoric in the health care debate. She choked back crocodile tears as she expressed
her fears that the level of discourse in the debate could lead to violence.



Give an example of each of the following rhetorical ploys.  Try to make your examples appreciably different from those already provided.  Explain how, in your example, the ploy functions to persuade us to do or believe something.

a Appeal to fear

b Appeal to cuteness

c Appeal to pity

d Direct attack

e Smokescreen



Try to find at least three examples of rhetorical ploys that do not fit neatly into any of the categories discussed in Chapter 2 or illustrated in the exercises.  Also suggest a name for each kind of ploy that you illustrate.  (You can invent the examples, but it is better if you find them in the media or other spoken or written contexts.)

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