Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 15, 2008

Do You Still Beat Your Wife?

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 2:58 pm
Tags: , , , ,

There’s a famous example of how journalists can box someone into a corner. You may have heard it, where a public person comes out of a building and faces a crowd of reporters. “So tell me, Senator; do you still beat your wife?”

If the Senator says no, the reporter asks, “When did you stop?” If the Senator says yes, he’s a wife abuser. Either way, his reputation is smeared. Nowadays, even a “no comment” can be made to look as if there’s a guilty conscience with hidden knowledge being held back by the Senator.

The question works on implied assumptions. To imply something means that a logical premise is held to be true but not stated. The truth is held in the mind, and the following spoken logic must then necessarily be true. It would be true, IF the unstated assumption is also true.

In other words, an implication holds an idea in mind, unspoken. It then says that idea is (and must be) true. Because it must be true, the implication then demands a response “as if” the original, unstated idea is “obviously” true.

But who says the unstated assumption is true? What if it isn’t even proven to be real?

If the Senator answers yes or no, he’s agreeing that beatings were in progress at some point, and that’s a proven fact. The entire question revolves around the word “still,” as in continuing. What if there isn’t a process at all, and never was?

Here’s another example: “Mr. Mayor, can you tell us what you intend to do about that UFO landing outside of town last night?”

The first proposition is that whatever happened last night absolutely involved a flying saucer. That’s already been “proved” as true, according to the question. Additionally, it’s been “proved” that something happened and that it happened at night.

Who says anything happened? Who says that UFOs and flying saucers even exist?

The American legal system includes a writ of habeas corpus, a Latin term for “show us the body.” The reason for this is that anyone can accuse anyone else of murdering someone. The suspect is then arrested and brought before a judge. The judge asks, “How do you plead; guilty or not guilty?”

If the suspect pleads guilty, then he or she is automatically admitting that someone is dead and that murder was committed. Likewise, pleading not guilty also assumes that a crime took place. Worse, they also agree that in some way, they were involved. So before anyone can answer the question from the judge, the State must show that there’s a dead body and death was a result of murder.

“Do you think Mr. Obama will be better than Mr. McCain where it comes to fixing the healthcare system?”

The implied “facts” are that a healthcare system exists, that it’s somehow broken (whatever that means), and that someone ought to repair it. The problem is that “repair” first requires agreement that something is broken. And that requires agreement that a “healthcare system” can break.

One of the most disturbing trends of modern times, something I’ve been noticing more and more, is that people seem to be using implications constantly. Even more worrisome is that fewer and fewer people are even aware that they’re doing this.

“We must pass this bail-out program, otherwise the economic consequences will be catastrophic.”

The implicationa are first that someone, often undefined, is utterly and totally helpless in terms of solving their own problems. Secondly, the assumption is that whomever this is also is in total control of the national economy. Third, the presumed-true premise is that an outside body (the government) is better at solving, or capable of solving whatever impossible problem took place.

“You never cared about me, you only think about yourself!”

There’s another one, this time used in personal relationships everywhere. The assumption is that thinking about personal business automatically cancels out thinking about someone else. The assumption is that a peson can only think about one, single thing at a time. If they think about something else, everything except that thing vanishes.

The fastest way to imply things in an offhand way is to just say, “y’know what I mean?” Or to make it declarative, “We all know what’s going on here.”

What if we don’t know?

Being aware of your own implications means having a sense of what’s coming out of your face. The noise you’re making with your mouth ought to be words, strung together in sentences. The purpose of those sentences is to communicate an idea. Presumably, the point of communicating is to exchange information.

The other side of the coin is to “infer.” When someone implies something, whomever is listening has the option of inferring the underlying premises — those unstated assumptions. They try to “interpret” what presumed truths and facts hide in the mind of the speaker. Or they have the option of inferring nothing at all.

“The S&P 500 index fell 400 points today.” The implication is, “We’re all gonna die!”

Listen to the news. Listen to the noise coming across the airwaves. Listen to whomever is speaking. How often to they state all the facts clearly, versus how often do they only imply something? It’s YOUR job to pay attention to implications, understand what you’re being asked to assume.

You are not required to read someone’s mind. Nor are you required to “know what they mean.” Your option is whether or not to listen. Your option is to assume that only what you actually hear is the basis for thought and possible discussion.



  1. Seemingly both campaigns this time around have been using a lot of smear tactics. The reason smears “sometimes” work is that the theory is that if you tell the public something over and over again, ultimately some of them will actually believe what they’re hearing. John Mccain clearly used these last week, which even though have proved effective in the past backfired on him because Americans wanted to hear more about what they thought about the economy since it was imploding dramatically rather than who did so-and-so and who said what back 20 years ago. Obama is guilty of this as well, make no bones about it. But if you use such tactics in an unintelligent way, you turn people off by insulting their intelligence.

    Comment by bob — October 15, 2008 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  2. Only some people. In today’s electorate, it seems the majority of people believe just about everything or anything.

    Comment by Punchinello — October 15, 2008 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

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