There is a quote from a TV series, which seems to contain (at least) two rhetoric instruments.

Michael Scott: Toby is in HR, which technically means he works for corporate. So he's really not a part of our family. Also, he's divorced, so he's really not a part of his family.1

The first technique establishes a slightly wrong premiss and creates further arguments/statements based on the premiss.

Toby is in HR =/=> Toby works for corporate == Not part of familiy, =/=> being a wrong implication.

Here, I am assuming that HR is, in fact, a part of Michael's department.

The second one is a recurring structure X ==> not part of a family, also the recurring topic 'family'.

Question How are those rhetoric techniques (or types of fallacies) called? How do they work?

1: The Office, S02E02, also video snippet is available on youtube.

  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there's no question about philosophy here.
    – virmaior
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 10:15
  • 2
    The question fits the tags. Evaluation of arguments and logical fallacies is part of this site.
    – mike
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 10:18
  • I think this is what I'd call 'stand up comedian' rhetoric. The main comedic device is the loose and repetitious interpretation of the world family. I'm not sure you can apply logic to the first statement because you would have to define what he means by 'family' in that context, and he is being deliberately vague about that. The second is easier to deal with. In this case he is saying that divorce renders one 'de-jure' not a family member. Of course the humour in that is that one can still be 'de-facto' a member of a family even if not legally.
    – Richard
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 14:52
  • I think the fallacy here is Michael's interpretation of HR's affiliation. HR is a part, but Michael's depicts it as sth. external and based on that, he concludes Toby is no part of the familiy, which seems sound, if you believe that HR does not belong to the department.
    – mike
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:04
  • 1
    I raised a question on the meta site about what the argumentation tag is specifically about and never got an answer. However, as far as other questions i've seen that were kept on the site and had positive responses dealing with this tag, this seems like a perfectly valid question for the site. It is explicitly a question about fallacies, argumentation, and rhetoric as defined by their tag info.
    – Not_Here
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


Michael used the fallacy of equivocation. The fallacy happens when the same word is employed to refer to different things or ideas. Michael's rhetorical goal is to appeal to the emotions of the listeners that they should not listen to Toby since Toby is a loner who belongs nowhere. For this, Michael employs 'family' equivocally.

Michael used 'family twice. His second use of 'family' is what 'family' commonly means: mommy, daddy,.. His first use of family is quite thin notion of family (e.g., community-feeling).

  • For the argumentation to contain the fallacy of equivocation, it has to be true that HR is not a real part of Michaels department. In my perception HR is a part. Michael states a wrong premiss and uses the term 'technically' as lubricant, which helps him to have the listener believe his depiction of HR/Toby as sth. external.
    – mike
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:01
  • I think the use of family or the pattern in which it occurs is called epistrophe.
    – mike
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:05
  • good point on epistrophe! About the place of HR, let's just ask Catbert Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:14
  • I'll edit the question to make clear, what my understanding is. I don't care about HR, only about the fallacy. ...Had to look up Catbert, though^^
    – mike
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:32

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