If, By Whiskey

Published: 2022-04-14

As he was standing in the musty Mississippi courtroom, arguing for what he believed in, he got a brilliant idea. Instead of arguing for the benefits of alcohol while hoping (and maybe praying) no one on the defense brought up all of the negative effects of alcohol, he would address the effects directly. This took the defense's argument right from their hands, just like a little kid in a candy shop.

"Mr. Sweat", the judge begins, "Do you have anything to add?"

"I do your honor, and please, call me 'Soggy'." (His real name was Noah Sweat Jr., but he acquired the nickname for potentially obvious reasons.)

Our man continued,

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.

The position depends on the audience

That dramatic introduction was my attempt at a narrative (How'd I do?) explaining the beginning of a rather fascinating fallacy known as "If by whiskey..."

Sweat, the character whom we observed in the musty Mississippi court room, was an American judge and state representative, famous for the former speech he gave in 1952 about whiskey. What made it so unique was that he wasn't arguing for one side or the other. Instead, he came down on both sides of the argument but took a different position depending on the audiences reaction.

Naturally, "If by whiskey..." arguments are used whenever the speakers position depends on the listener's opinion. It's a great way to take a position on something without really taking a position.

Another way to think about this is the Russel Conjugation.

Russel Conjugation

The Russel Conjugation, or sometimes called the Emotive Conjugation is when someone uses different words to describe something depending on the feelings they want to invoke in the listener.

This is something most people do without ever realizing they are doing it. This happens because all words convey two meanings. The first is the factual information the word conveys. We all know what a dog is because the word "dog" describes it. The second meaning words coney are their intended emotional response. "Dog" is a kind, loving animal. "Mutt" is a dumb, unwanted creature. "Sleeping around" vs. "Having lots of sex." "Getting drunk" vs. "Having a few too many." "Murdering babies" vs. "Pro Choice."

By using a select choice of words instead of another, a speaker is able to create emotional responses to what they're saying. They can invoke love and sadness or fear and anger by describing the same situation based on factual meaning but that carries a different emotional load.