Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bit Five Times

Revised: January 13, 2014; 18:53 GMT

A sophisticated rhetorical device has been adopted by pit bull advocates.

I have been bitten by a     (blank)   .

A popular variation is  I know a man/woman who was bitten by a  _(blank)_ .

The blank is filled with the name of any breed, other than a pit bull. A reader who scans the comment sections following news accounts of pit bull attacks will often find this trope.

The most gentle dogs are preferred (golden retrievers), but diminutive dogs (dachshunds, chihuahuas) are also popular choices to fill in the blanks.

This rhetorical device accomplishes several aims at once:
  1. It reinforces other pit bull arguments, for example All dogs bite 
  2. In comment sections, it ignores and displaces the news of the attack
  3. It serves as a homily, reminding us that bites are ordinary, can be endured with humor, and are not worthy of special consideration;
  4. It equates the bite of a pit bull with that of the   (blank) , thereby diminishing the horrors of a pit bull mauling.
The stories are inevitably unsubstantiated.

This writer witnessed an over-the-top performance of this rhetorical device. At a Town Council meeting where BSL was under discussion a speaker gave a tour de force performance, which opened with the following line:
I've been bitten by dogs five times in my life, and not one was a pit bull.
The speaker went on to give a nuanced account of her alleged personal dog bite history.

These speeches always follow the same pattern, and they work on the same level as political speech: it frames the reader's (or listener's) understanding of an issue by framing the language used to discuss it.

How is it that this tactic has come to be so widely embraced by the pit bull community? How do they all know and share this experience? How could so many people who own pit bulls have been bitten by so many dogs that aren't pit bulls?

What were these pit bull owners doing wrong to get bit so often?

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