The term rhetoric refers broadly to the ability of one to speak or write effectively or articulately. A more specific understanding of the word rhetoric is to refer to a speaker or writer's ability to persuade or motivate a group. Rhetoric is used in general conversation as well as in debate.
Rhetoric Involve Two Parties
In rhetorical situations, there are two parties involved.
- The rhetor - The individual who is speaking and attempting to be persuasive.
- The audience - The person or persons to whom the rhetor is speaking.
Rhetoric uses language to appeal mainly to emotions, but also in some cases to shared values or logic.
Examples of rhetoric include:
- Upon approaching a cashier at the grocery store she asks, "Will you help starving children today by adding just $3 to your grocery bill?"
- An advertiser for insurance may use rhetoric to make it seem that the buyer would receive less service or support for any intense damage to property in order to persuade a consumer to buy a certain brand of insurance.
- When at a restaurant, the server suggests, "Can I add some of our delicious sweet potato fries to your entree for a dollar more?"
- The purchase of Alaska was referred to as "Seward's Folly" by those in opposition to the purchase. The use of the word "Folly" was intended to be negative and degrading in order to persuade the public that the purchase was an ill-informed decision.
- Referring to the United States White House as the president's "playground" would be a tactic of rhetoric used by a person in opposition to the president to persuade citizens that the president is incapable or incompetent and uses his power inappropriately.
- Often the concept of patriotism is used as rhetoric, in that if one does not subscribe to a certain belief or concept, he or she is referred to unpatriotic in an attempt to persuade others not to follow the footsteps of the "unpatriotic."
- The change of wording of some labels in order to make concepts more palatable is a form of rhetoric. For instance, the term "illegal immigrants" has been recently replaced in widespread media with terms such as "undocumented workers" in order to reduce the stigma placed on individuals with the label of "illegal" or to make future legislation regarding the status of individuals more palatable to those in opposition.
- A distribution of a pamphlet by a religious organization advertising an upcoming meeting which boasts that you can "secure your place in heaven" by joining the organization is an example of persuasion using rhetoric.
- A medicine ad claims that more people choose its medicine than a competitor is using rhetoric that is a logical fallacy in that the fact that more people purchased the medicine does not speak to its effectiveness and worthiness of purchase.
- An advertisement for a food product for children that espouses that "Moms who love their children, buy [name of product]" uses rhetoric by persuading parents that not buying that brand of product may imply they do no not care as much for their children.
Now you can better understand what rhetoric is and how it is used by reviewing these examples.