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Logic and rhetoric
“”If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster […] 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, […] then certainly I am for it.
|—The speech that it was named for|
The if-by-whiskey or if-by-whiskey fallacy is a debating tactic often found in politics, and a subset of the relativist fallacy. It is named after a famous speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a Mississippi lawmaker, who was arguing both for and against the legalization of alcohol. It could be considered a form of the balance fallacy, or at least related, and often uses loaded language and doublespeak.
The if-by-whiskey is generally structured in a very verbose way, and basically acts like a fill-in-the-blank:
- If by [noun], you mean [negative descriptors of noun], then of course [statement of lack of support/belief]. If, however, by [noun], you mean [positive descriptors of noun], then [statement of support/belief].
Despite the length, it very rarely contains any real content.
- "If by terrorists, you mean freedom-fighting rebels who aren't afraid to protest their overly authoritarian governments, then yes, I support terrorists. But if by terrorists, you mean extremists, disrespecters of authority, suicide bombers, and the like, then of course I don't support terrorism."
- "If by God, you mean the man who killed everybody on the Earth, punished a man for no reason at all, and killed the firstborn son of everybody in Egypt, then of course I don't think he should be worshiped. But if by God, you mean the man who sacrificed himself for all humanity's sins, brought a man back from the dead, and loves everybody equally, then he should definitely be worshiped!"