Look at the quotation at the beginning of this

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Look at the quotation at the beginning of this chapter. Mr. Burns is the owner of a nuclear power plant that has had an accident. He tries to define the issue by replacing “meltdown” with “unrequested fission surplus.” “Melt-
115 PERSUADE ON YOUR TERMS down” is a commonplace word, heavily laden with emo- tion; he swaps it for jargonistic terms that don’t show up in any commonplace. They have almost no emo- tional effect. While we might object to his new terms, his dislike of “meltdown” is understandable. The term is burdened with so much connotative baggage that Burns feels compelled to swap it out. The words “chemicals” and “logging” have a similar negative con- notation—unfairly in many cases. Where would we be without chemicals and wood? Yet you would have a hard time redefining either of these words for just about any audience except chemists and loggers. Your job as a persuader is to find the common- place words that appeal most to your audience—or if you’re on the attack, repel them. Politicians use focus groups to test terms like “reform” and “protection,” which resonate with American voters—for now. Attach “reform” to enough pork legislation, though, and poli- ticians may find themselves stuck with a negative com- Persuasion Alert I’m trying to make my own issue, rhet- oric, appeal to as broad an audience as possible. So when I talk about “defin- ing” and “labeling”— terms that carry negative emotional baggage for many readers—I empha- size defense over offense. Notice how I use spare, oh-by- the-way language when I refer to attacking with com- monplace words. The technical name for this technique of skipping over an awkward subject is metastasis. It’s one of the more manipu- lative figures. monplace word. You don’t need focus groups to deal with smaller audiences. Just listen to the expressions people use, and spot the key persuasive words. We need to be more aggressive. Welcome to the team. If we work smarter, we’ll win. I like him. He has a good heart. We need to change the paradigm. I can’t relate to her way of working. Chalk it up to a learning experience. He was traumatized in his last job. All of the italicized words reflect certain attitudes and come with vary- ing emotional charges—all positive except for the last one. Don’t call your new plan innovative if you hear the word “aggressive” repeatedly. Call it aggressive. Refer to your plan as a team effort that changes the paradigm. Of course, you don’t have to speak like a cliché-programmed humanoid. I exaggerate for effect. Just remember to spot the key words and use them to define the issue.
116 THANK YOU FOR ARGUING Get Out of a Tough Scrape An issue doesn’t have to entail big, overarching political fights or global concerns. An issue is simply what your argument is about. The words people use to sum up an argument constitute the issue’s definition: “It’s about values.” “It’s about getting things done.” “This is really about wanting to go out Saturday night.” The rhetorical tenet that there are two sides to

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