In political discourse, if-by-whiskey is a relativist fallacy in which the speaker's position is contingent on the listener's opinion. An if-by-whiskey argument implemented through doublespeak appears to affirm both sides of an issue, and agrees with whichever side the listener supports, in effect taking a position without taking a position. The statement typically uses words with strongly positive or negative connotations (e.g., terrorist as negative and freedom fighter as positive).
The label if-by-whiskey refers to a 1952 speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages:
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 American columnist William Safire popularized the term in his column in The New York Times, but wrongly attributed it to Florida Governor Fuller Warren. He corrected this reference in his book Safire's Political Dictionary, on page 337.
- The formula has been extended to apply to other controversial topics, such as "if-by-cannabis" and "if-by-God".
- Quentin Whitwell wrote a novel called If by Whiskey.
- "Safire's Political Dictionary". Oxford University Press.
- Bennett, Bo. "If-by-whiskey". Logically fallacious. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- "Noah S. Sweat - Whiskey Speech". Famous Speeches and Speech Topics. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
- Safire, William (1991-12-22). "ON LANGUAGE; It's a Rain Forest Out There". NY Times.
- Oglesby, Pat (September 3, 2013). "If By Cannabis: An Update of "If By Whiskey"". New Revenue. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- Whitwell, Quentin (2009). If by Whiskey. Coldwater. ISBN 978-0692005378.
The 1952 speech by Mississippi state Rep. (and Judge) Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., reprised by Mississippi state Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi state Capitol, as broadcast on public radio. (Duration: 3 minutes 27 seconds)
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