An Aussie reader and Rugby fan has privately offered me an interesting translation of “argumentum ad hominem” : “Play the ball and not the man”. The metaphor is not only spot on but it underlines a fundamental difference between Rugby and American football : in the latter the point seems to be to annihilate the jock facing you, so as to allow two players on your side to get on with the game, i.e. to permit the quarterback to throw the ball to a receiver who then, hopefully, dashes into the End Zone (they call this “football” ?).
Down Under, and in many other countries, Rugby is in fact just as rough and, in spite of the noble principle, often aimed at hitting and hurting an opponent rather than trying to regain possession of the ball. In religious debate, hitting and hurting are done with words chosen to embarrass one’s opponent as a person, rather than confront opposing points of view. In the short term such a stratagem scores points, but in the long run using “argumenta ad hominem” amounts to shooting oneself in the foot.