How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio

Soggy Sweat's Whiskey Speech

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Nordquist, Richard. "How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, February 24). How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833 Nordquist, Richard. "How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833 (accessed October 19, 2017).
Soggy Sweat's Whiskey Speech
(Sheridan Libraries/Levy/Gado/Getty Images)

One of the craftiest orations in the history of American politics was the "Whiskey Speech," delivered in April 1952 by a young Mississippi legislator named Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.

The House had been debating whether to finally pop the cork on Prohibition when Sweat (later a circuit court judge and a college professor) decided to demonstrate his prowess for talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The occasion was a banquet at the old King Edward Hotel in Jackson.

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

If when you say "whiskey" you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation and despair and shame and helplessness and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But if when you say "whiskey" you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm, to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Though I'm tempted to call Sweat's speech a lampoon, that word's etymology (from the French lampons, "let us drink") may betray a certain bias. In any event, the speech stands as a parody of political doublespeak and an artful exercise in employing audience-flattering connotations.

The classical figure underlying the speech is distinctio: making explicit references to various meanings of a word.

(Bill Clinton used the same device when he told a Grand Jury, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.") But whereas the customary aim of distinctio is to remove ambiguities, Sweat's intention was to exploit them.

His initial characterization of whiskey, addressed to the teetotalers in the crowd, employs a series of dysphemisms--disagreeable and offensive impressions of the demon drink. In the next paragraph he shifts his appeal to the wets in his audience through a far more agreeable list of euphemisms. Thus he takes a firm stand--on both sides of the issue.

In these days of duplicity in the land of spin, we lift our hearts and our glasses to the memory of Judge Soggy Sweat.

Sources:

  • Orley Hood, "On June 3, Soggy's Speech Will Come to Life," The Clarion-Ledger (May 25, 2003)
  • M. Hughes, “Judge Sweat and ‘The Original Whiskey Speech,’" The Jurist (Vol. I, No. 2, Spring 1986)
  • "If by Whiskey," The Clarion Ledger (February 24, 1996)
Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, February 24). How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833 Nordquist, Richard. "How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/flatter-an-audience-with-euphemisms-1691833 (accessed October 19, 2017).