We rarely think before we talk. It is human nature to say the first thing that comes into our head—and usually what comes first is something about ourselves. We primarily use words to express our own feelings, ideas, and opinions. (Also to complain and to argue.) This is because we are generally self-absorbed—the person who interests us most is our own self. To a certain extent this is inevitable, and through much of our lives there is nothing much wrong with it; we can function quite well this way.
In seduction, however, it limits our potential. You cannot seduce without an ability to get outside your own skin and inside another person’s, piercing their psychology. The key to seductive language is not the words you utter, or your seductive tone of voice; it is a radical shift in perspective and habit. You have to stop saying the first thing that comes to your mind—you have to control the urge to prattle and vent your opinions.
The key is to see words as a tool not for communicating true thoughts and feelings but for confusing, delighting, and intoxicating. The difference between normal language and seductive language is like the difference between noise and music. Noise is a constant in modern life, something irritating we tune out if we can. Our normal language is like noise—people may half-listen to us as we go on about ourselves, but just as often their thoughts are a million miles away. Every now and then their ears prick up when something we say touches on them, but this lasts only until we return to yet another story about ourselves. As early as childhood we learn to tune out this kind of noise (particularly when it comes from our parents).
Music, on the other hand, is seductive, and gets under our skin. It is intended for pleasure. A melody or rhythm stays in our blood for days after we have heard it, altering our moods and emotions, relaxing or exciting us. To make music instead of noise, you must say things that please—things that relate to people’s lives, that touch their vanity. If they have many problems, you can produce the same effect by distracting them, focusing their attention away from themselves by saying things that are witty and entertaining, or that make the future seem bright and hopeful. Promises and flattery are music to anyone’s ears. This is language designed to move people and lower their resistance. It is language designed for them, not directed at them.
The Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio was physically unattractive, yet women could not resist him. Even those who knew of his Don Juan reputation and disliked him for it (the actress Eleanora Duse and the dancer Isadora Duncan, for instance) fell under his spell. The secret was the flow of words in which he enveloped a woman. His voice was musical, his language poetic, and most devastating of all, he knew how to flatter. His flattery was aimed precisely at a woman’s weaknesses, the areas where she needed validation. A woman was beautiful, yet lacked confidence in her own wit and intelligence? He made sure to say that he was bewitched not by her beauty but by her mind. He might compare her to a heroine of literature, or to a carefully chosen mythological figure. Talking to him, her ego would double in size.
Flattery is seductive language in its purest form. Its purpose is not to express a truth or a real feeling, but only to create an effect on the recipient. Like D’Annunzio, learn to aim your flattery directly at a person’s insecurities. For instance, if a man is a fine actor and feels confident about his professional skills, to flatter him about his acting will have little effect, and may even accomplish the opposite—he could feel that he is above the need to have his ego stroked, and your flattery will seem to say otherwise.
But let us say that this actor is an amateur musician or painter. He does this work on his own, without professional support or publicity, and he is well aware that others make their living at it. Flattery of his artistic pretensions will go straight to his head and earn you double points. Learn to sniff out the parts of a person’s ego that need validation. Make it a surprise, something no one else has thought to flatter before—something you can describe as a talent or positive quality that others have not noticed. Speak with a little tremor, as if your target’s charms had overwhelmed you and made you emotional. Flattery can be a kind of verbal foreplay.
Aphrodite’s powers of seduction, which were said to come from the magnificent girdle she wore, involved a sweetness of language—a skill with the soft, flattering words that prepare the way for erotic thoughts. Insecurities and nagging self-doubts have a dampening effect on the libido. Make your targets feel secure and alluring through your flattering words and their resistance will melt away Sometimes the most pleasant thing to hear is the promise of something wonderful, a vague but rosy future that is just around the corner. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his public speeches, talked little about specific programs for dealing with the Depression; instead he used rousing rhetoric to paint a picture of America’s glorious future. In the various legends of Don Juan, the great seducer would immediately focus women’s attention on the future, a fantastic world to which he promised to whisk them off. Tailor your sweet words to your targets’ particular problems and fantasies. Promise something realizable, something possible, but do not make it too specific; you are inviting them to dream. If they are mired in dull routine, talk of adventure, preferably with you.
Do not discuss how it will be accomplished; speak as if it magically already existed, somewhere in the future. Lift people’s thoughts into the clouds and they will relax, their defenses will come down, and it will be that much easier to maneuver and lead them astray. Your words become a kind of elevating drug. The most anti-seductive form of language is argument. How many silent enemies do we create by arguing? There is a superior way to get people to listen and be persuaded: humor and a light touch.
The nineteenth century English politician Benjamin Disraeli was a master at this game. In Parliament, to fail to reply to an accusation or slanderous comment was a deadly mistake: silence meant the accuser was right. Yet to respond angrily, to get into an argument, was to look ugly and defensive. Disraeli used a different tactic: he stayed calm. When the time came to reply to an attack, he would slowly make his way to the speaker’s table, pause, then utter a humorous or sarcastic retort. Everyone would laugh.
Now that he had warmed people up, he would proceed to refute his enemy, still mixing in amusing comments; or perhaps he would simply move on to another subject, as if he were above it all. His humor took out the sting of any attack on him. Laughter and applause have a domino effect: once your listeners have laughed, they are more likely to laugh again. In this lighthearted mood they are also more apt to listen.
A subtle touch and a bit of irony give you room to persuade them, move them to your side, mock your enemies. That is the seductive form of argument. Shortly after the murder of Julius Caesar, the head of the band of conspirators who had killed him, Brutus, addressed an angry mob. He tried to reason with the crowd, explaining that he had wanted to save the Roman Republic from dictatorship. The people were momentarily convinced— yes, Brutus seemed a decent man. Then Mark Antony took the stage, and he in turn delivered a eulogy for Caesar. He seemed overwhelmed with emotion. He talked of his love for Caesar, and of Caesar’s love for the Roman people. He mentioned Caesar’s will; the crowd clamored to hear it, but Antony said no, for if he read it they would know how deeply Caesar had loved them, and how dastardly this murder was. The crowd again insisted he read the will; instead he held up Caesar’s bloodstained cloak, noting its rents and tears. This was where Brutus had stabbed the great general, he said; Cassius had stabbed him here. Then finally he read the will, which told how much wealth Caesar had left to the Roman people. This was the coup degrace—the crowd turned against the conspirators and went off to lynch them.
You are learning to speak a different kind of language. Most people employ symbolic language—their words stand for something real, the feelings, ideas, and beliefs they really have. Or they stand for concrete things in the real world. (The origin of the word “symbolic” lies in a Greek word meaning “to bring things together”—in this case, a word and something real.) As a seducer you are using the opposite: diabolic language. Your words do not stand for anything real; their sound, and the feelings they evoke, are more important than what they are supposed to stand for. (The word “diabolic” ultimately means to separate, to throw things apart—here, words and reality.) The more you make people focus on your sweet-sounding language, and on the illusions and fantasies it conjures, the more you diminish their contact with reality.
You lead them into the clouds, where it is hard to distinguish truth from untruth, real from unreal. Keep your words vague and ambiguous, so people are never quite sure what you mean. Envelop them in demonic, diabolical language and they will not be able to focus on your maneuvers, on the possible consequences of your seduction. And the more they lose themselves in illusion, the easier it will be to lead them astray and seduce them.