Rhetorical Magic

There’s an expression increasingly in use. Appearing as often in speeches by undergraduates in Public Speaking classes as it is by executives in the board room.

It’s an expression that affords the speaker an opportunity to state the silliest and the most outlandish things and then offer what appears to be the speaker’s moderated, tempered contradiction to the first statement.

“That being said . . .”

Make any statement, as long as it’s followed by “That being Said,” and it can be the boldest of assertions. The speaker is at once protected and comforted by the fact that one need not stand behind the bold assertion.

As any schoolboy knows, elephants can fly. That being said, physical laws govern the ability to take flight.

The expression’s variants likewise cover the speaker: That said . . .; Having said that . . . ; Be that as it may . . .

“That being said” affords the speaker an opportunity to set the agenda while disclaiming any responsibility for doing so.

Fantasies, flawed memories, fabulous fables and all kinds of pseudo-statements-of-fact flow freely, unfettered and unencumbered as long as they’re followed by “That being said.”

Here’s a recent example.

A tragic and fatal wrong-way highway accident involving an SUV and a tractor trailer occurred on March 20. The AP story reported that “hours before the crash, [one of three off-duty N.J. police] officers posted a photo on his Instagram page of three shot glasses filled with what was identified as ‘Jack Daniels Fire on the house.’”

The shot glasses were located at a strip club.

The police chief in the town where the accident occurred is quoted in the AP story: “We were all young once and I’m sure we’ve all done stupid things in our life.”

It’s one of those flag statements: run it up the pole and everyone salutes.

“But that being said,” the police chief continued, “because this is an ongoing investigation, it would be way too premature to speculate on what caused the accident.”

It would be premature. “Way” or not. But that didn’t deter the chief of police from speculating. It was the part immediately before “that being said.”

The “stupid things” assertion is doubtless true. Yet how many youthful stupid things result in two deaths, a couple of serious injuries, two totaled vehicles, massive traffic tie-ups (perhaps prompting more accidents), all due to wrong-way driving?

There’s no disputing the wrong-way portion; the SUV was traveling north on a southbound lane.

“That being said” allows for the most outrageous claims, most illogical conclusions, pathetic rationalizations and downright stupid assertions to take primacy over more moderating, tentative, let’s-wait-‘til-the-evidence-is-all-in statements.

The chief would have been better served, as would we readers, if the chief simply left things at: it’s “an ongoing investigation, hence premature to know how the accident occurred.”

This rhetorical trick, one best appreciated by the Sophists, deserves to be called out each time it’s unleashed.

The expression affords behind (as in “rear end”) coverage for the speaker, perhaps encouraging outlandishness. The expression, like the one expressing, is a weasel.

That being said, one must always give the speaker the benefit of the doubt.

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