PPFF #82: Incredulous restatement of interlocutor’s statement


Good morning all,

I was making small talk with one of my colleagues in the coffee area at work and he happened to say something interesting about the building where we work; it used to be called ING Barings Bank, after ING took over Barings Bank in 1995. Those in the know will instantly recognise that Barings Bank is ‘the’ bank which the infamous ‘rogue trader’ Nick Leeson managed to bring down single-handedly by losing them nearly £827 million in unauthorised trades of a pretty fraudulent nature. So I googled around for more material on this and really wanted to believe that this very building we work in had something, or anything to do with that part of history (or any history for that matter).

But no, Leeson took the bank down whilst trading in Singapore and this building had nothing to do with it as Financial History Review published in 2000 shows that Barings Bank remained at 8 Bishopsgate until 1995.

Blimey; that was a really long winded way of saying ‘I’ll be talking about something else’.

Fortunately, I did come across a rather interesting concept I can share this morning, called ‘Incredulous restatement of interlocutor’s statement’.
It was such a mouthful that I thought it’d be worth sharing, and as ridiculous as that may sound, it’s actually a common technique in argumentation, which you and I have probably used in the past if we ever had an argument with anyone.

If the interlocutor in a conversation with you, makes a factual claim, especially one that is counter-intuitive, for example, that the population of London from 1930 remains virtually unchanged, and you restate the interlocutor’s original statement in an incredulous tone, “Population of London? Unchanged? For over 80 years? Huh?”. That’s an ‘incredulous restatement of interlocutor’s statement’.
Apparently this is an interesting manoeuvre in an argument as it really adds nothing factually or structurally new to the conversation but by ‘tonally sidestepping’ the actual discussion at hand it undermines the appearance of credibility of the stated fact (perhaps to an audience) without any further factually-supported counter-argument or investigation on your part. In other words, it’s effective but it’s a dirty trick that’s designed to irritate and frustrate your opponent. Please use with caution.

Wishing you an argument-free Friday.