How much do I love the new Ellen DeGeneres book? From the title to the last page. In fact, let's start with the title: Seriously. . . I'm Kidding. A logical puzzle? A figure of speech? But which one? Let's take a look at this next bestseller by one of America's favorite comedians.
Seriously... I'm Kidding is DeGeneres's first book in eight years, years in which she's founded a record label, appeared and then declined to appear as a judge on American Idol, and hosted her own hugely successful talk show. She also married Portia De Rossi.
DeGeneres's comedic touch is light and deft, as she lets the reader into her head, allowing us to see her generous, inventive, everyday mind unspool its thoughts and musings on everything from her wife's obsession with body care products to whether they'll have kids to good ideas for gambling and why she left American Idol (no secret--she just didn't want to be mean).
She's not averse to talking about her stand on gay marriage (positive, unsurprisingly) and gay rights, prejudice, and generally living a worthwhile life and having fun along the way, but she's never preachy. Her title is so wonderfully apt for the contents: serious but light.
But on close inspection, what about that title? If a philosophy student were to look at it, or an old-time Star Trek fan, doesn't it seem like a logical conundrum (like the kind that Spock used to defeat that robot)? A trope, or figure of speech that's a play on words akin to "I always tell lies. I'm lying now," and "This sentence is false" Seriously, I'm Kidding seems to be its own contradiction--always a fun way to play with language.
The ancient Greeks gave us many of our labels for rhetoric. Is it irony, using words opposite to their literal meaning? No, it's not that. Is it litotes, "an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by stating its opposite"? I wish it were, because I love saying and writing litotes, but it's not that exactly either.
More likely an oxymoron, two apparently contradictory terms, like "jumbo shrimp"? Hmm, no, not that. Perhaps it's a paradox, a statement that appears to contradict itself. By Ellen, I think we've got it!
It's no paradox that DeGeneres has written another enjoyable book, however, one I highly recommend. I recommend a good look at the origins of rhetoric as well--figures of speech from hyperbole to synecdoche are part of our everyday life.
Spotted any outstanding figures of speech in everyday life recently? Let us know!
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Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.