Flattery will get you nowhere

Flattery gets you nowehere

The origin of flattery is uncertain, and the Oxford English Dictionary describes the etymology as "somewhat doubtful." The original meaning of the word is thought mean to "stroke with the hand or caress."[1] Flattery (κολακείαν) was used by Greek playwright, Aristophenes (c. 448-380 BCE), who defined flattery as an act of deception through persuasive rhetoric claiming delegates from other cities could accomplish deception through "style" and states' flattery was used to "hoodwink" and could also be used to seduce others indicating that flattery could be used as a form of trickery.[2] Throughout ancient Greece, the noble and rich had very little connection with the poor. In the democratic states the many of the poor flattered the noble in order to manipulate the wealthy, because failure to do so would result in the wealthy taking on a more authoritative and commanding demeanor toward the poor.[3] So, it seems flattering was initially used as a way to combat the hierarchal nature of the society.

Later, the sophists relied on flattery as one of their primary rhetorical tools in order to persuade their audiences. Athenians also enjoyed being flattered as they spoke, but also recognized they were heavily influenced as listeners by the flattery. This created a divide bringing rise to rhetoricians and philosophers who were against the sophists arguing Athenians were heading down a path of self-destruction by becoming "slaves to flattery" and equated flattery with evil.[4] Plato believed rhetoric that distorts and flatters (sophists) was problematic and flawed, but rather, rhetoric should speak with regard to the truth. He also contended the rhetoric of the sophists, especially their use of flattery, was merely a knack rather than a craft. Flattery may give pleasure and gratification in the physical world or to the body, but did nothing for the soul. Plato and other philosophers predicted knacks and false arts like flattery were causing Athenians to become more interested in the material and physical world neglecting their soul, which would ultimately lead to their demise.[5]

Contemporary rhetorical scholars are for the most part in agreement with Plato that flattery does not work well rhetorically. However, Flattery has become far more covert and more subtle. Flattery is also thought in terms of praise rather than the Ancient Greek notion of manipulation. Contemporary scholars define flattery as strategic praise or praise with a purpose. In essence, flattery is not thought of as a devious act, because we tend to form opinions of ourselves based on those around us. As a result, contemporary society have become attention mongers who value praise and flattery for its ability to provide self validation.[6]

500 words

[1] Oxford English dictionary. (2009). Oxford University Press. Retrieved September 30, 2009 from
http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50085854?query_type=word&queryword=flattery&first=1&max_to_ show=10&single=1&sort_type=alpha

[2] Crane, G.R. (1987). Perseus digital library. Tufts University. 4.0. Retrieved September 30, 2009 from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0240:card=628

[3] Wood, E. (1981). Marxism and ancient Greece. History Workshop, 11(spring), 3-22.

[4] Ober, J. (1989). Mass and elite in democratic Athens. United Kingdom: Princeton University Press.

[5] Kerch, T.M. (2008). Plato's menexenus: A paradigm of rhetorical flattery. Polis, 25(1).

[6] Stengel, R. (2000). You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. New York: Touchstone.