Late last month, Sen. Marco Rubio decided to get down into the gutter with demagogue Donald Trump. As the Washington Post reported it:
He turned insults lobbed by Trump against the billionaire. He said the only reason Trump isn’t as sweaty as him is because of pores clogged with spray tan. He said his rival, who has taken to calling him “Little Rubio,” has tiny hands, referencing a common dig at Trump’s fingers.
“You know what they say about men with small hands,” Rubio said, pausing to let the audience laugh. “You can’t trust ’em.”
Trump would pick up on this in the next debate–“And, he referred to my hands … ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”–but I’m more interested in Rubio’s delivery of the line, with the pause left long enough to imply precisely what the Donald felt was being implied. It seems to be that what Rubio used here must be a figure of speech of some sort, although the best I can come up with is “misdirected analogy.” There’s a less unsavory version of this sort of thing to be found in Patrick Henry’s speech against the Stamp Act from 1765:
“Caesar had his Brutus – Charles the first, his Cromwell – and George the third – (‘Treason,’ cried the Speaker – ‘treason, treason,’ echoed from every part of the House. – It was one of those trying moments which is decisive of character. – Henry faltered not an instant; but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the Speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!”
Perhaps Rubio and Henry were both engaged in what Cicero calls insinuatio (de Inventione, 1.20): Insinuatio est oratio quadam dissimulatione et circumitione obscure subiens auditoris animum, “Insinuation is a speech secretly entering the mind of the listener by a certain pretense and circuitousness.” I’m not sure if that fully describes what’s going on with these two examples, but perhaps it does. The other word that comes to mind is innuendo, another Latinism meaning to indicate something, usually depreciatory, “by means of nodding, i.e., non-verbally.” If you have any thoughts, please reply!