"English? Who needs that? I'm never going to England!"
Woo-hoo! The immortal words of Mr. Homer Simpson--beer-guzzling, donut-popping patriarch, nuclear-power-plant safety inspector, and Springfield's resident rhetorician. Indeed, Homer has contributed far more to the English language than just the popular interjection "D'oh." Let's take a look at some of those rich contributions--and along the way review a dozen rhetorical terms.
Homer's Rhetorical Questions
Consider this exchange from a Simpson family symposium:
Mother Simpson: [singing] How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?In fact, Homeric logic often depends on a rhetorical question for its expression:
Lisa: No, dad, it's a rhetorical question.
Homer: OK, eight.
Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
Homer: Do I know what "rhetorical" means?
Books are useless! I only ever read one book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin . . . but what good does that do me?One particular type of rhetorical question favored by Homer is erotesis, a question implying strong affirmation or denial: "Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?"
Homer's Figures of Speech
Though sometimes misjudged as a complete moron, Homer is actually a deft manipulator of the oxymoron: "Oh Bart, don't worry, people die all the time. In fact, you could wake up dead tomorrow." And our favorite figure of ridicule is actually quite handy with figures of speech. To explain human behavior, for instance, he relies on personification:
The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!Here, in just five words, he manages to combine apostrophe and tricolon in a heartfelt encomium: "Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover."
Of course, Homer isn't always familiar with the names of such classical figures:
Lisa: That's Latin, Dad--the language of Plutarch.
Homer: Mickey Mouse's dog?
Homeric ArgumentsHomer's rhetorical turns, especially his efforts to argue by analogy, sometimes take odd detours:
And consider Homer's eccentric (or perhaps dyslexic?) use of hypophora (raising questions and answering them): "What's a wedding? Webster's dictionary describes it as the act of removing weeds from one's garden."
Son, a woman is a lot like a . . . a refrigerator! They're about six feet tall, 300 pounds. They make ice, and . . . um . . . Oh, wait a minute. Actually, a woman is more like a beer.
Son, a woman is like a beer. They smell good, they look good, you'd step over your own mother just to get one! But you can't stop at one. You wanna drink another woman!
You know, boys, a nuclear reactor is a lot like a woman. You just have to read the manual and press the right buttons.
Fame was like a drug. But what was even more like a drug were the drugs.
But for the most part, Homer Simpson is an artful and deliberate rhetorician. For one thing, he's a self-proclaimed master of verbal irony:
Owww, look at me, Marge, I'm making people happy! I'm the magical man, from Happy Land, who lives in a gumdrop house on Lolly Pop Lane! . . . By the way I was being sarcastic.And he dispenses wisdom with dehortatio:
The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy to be a man. Let's see. Don't tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you're sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.
Next time that you catch The Simpsons on TV, see if you can identify additional examples of these rhetorical concepts:
- figures of speech
- rhetorical question
- verbal irony
For the complete critical vocabulary required to appreciate the wealth of Homer Simpson's rhetoric, please see our Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms.
Update: For an expanded version of this article, visit Homer Simpson's Figures of Speech: Tripping Over Tropes With Springfield's Master Rhetorician.
Image: Homer Simpson TM and © FOX and its related entities.