Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bleepin' Rhetoric

PsyBlog reported this week that a bit of "light swearing" can go a long way when making a persuasive speech. Apparently, according to a recent study, throwing in the word "damn" or the phrase "damn it" should make your speech more influential than the same speech would be without the mild obscenity. In addition, this approach should increase your audience's perception of your intensity while not affecting their perception of your credibility: "When you show some feeling, the audience notices, credits you with sincerity and takes your message to heart."

A very interesting speech was made recently here in Ottawa by Mayor Larry O'Brien. In early October, he told the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board that while he can't say he is the worst mayor ever - because he doesn't know all of them and their records, he said - he was "pretty bad" in his first two years. He said, "I probably made every single major political mistake that was possible. I think I even made quite a few mistakes that, quite frankly, were impossible to replicate." And yet, he is running for Mayor again. Apparently, he believes that he would make a good mayor if Ottawa residents renew their faith in him.

Is this a move made out of sheer desperation as he trails Jim Watson in the polls? Or has he employed a rhetorical approach called inoculation (see Roland Barthes' Mythologies), "inoculat[ing] the public with a contingent evil to prevent or cure an essential one... A little 'confessed' evil saves one from admitting a lot of hidden evil." O'Brien essentially admitted that he had done everything wrong, so what more could he be hiding? Perhaps he should have just gone with a little bit of swearing instead.