What Is Rhetoric?


I’m sure everyone has heard it at least 37,000 times in their Language Arts or English classes throughout high school. I’m also sure 90% of you didn’t know really what it meant at all. Don’t worry, until college I didn’t really either.

To start off our friendly weekly blog, I thought it would be good to discuss and digest the word, since it is in the title. Maybe we should know what we’re talking about before we go too deep.

Let’s start super analytical about it. As quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary, rhetoric is a noun that means: “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques”.

Well that sounds kind of completely boggling and hard to swallow, huh?

How about instead we water that down from hard, straight liquor to a nice, pleasing martini.

From what I’ve learned, rhetoric is basically everywhere. Yeah, I know, sounds vague as hell. But bear with me. Rhetoric is basically the meanings we associate with certain objects, colors, actions, etc. and how creators use those associations to make us think a certain way.

For example, an author wants you to feel like a scene is sad? Add some rain to that shit. Or an ad agency wants you to get hungry, they add red to their logos (trust me, there’s a whole psychological thing with red about hunger/sex and others fun things; here’s a link to one place that talks about it and other color psychologies. Feel free to look up more on your own).

Basically, the gist is that certain associations can make you think/feel a thing without just saying “this is sad” or “this should make you hungry”. And that’s what rhetoric is. The process of doing that.

Hence why I say that rhetoric is everywhere. Everything is a bunch of associations that makes people think things. In English classes, it sometimes can feel like rhetoric is a literature based concept, and restricted to the written word or other creative mediums.

Not true one bit. Rhetoric pops up everywhere, which is why its pretty cool to analyze how it works and what’s going on with associations and anomalies in stories. (And also makes writing a whole blog about something that’s  EVERYWHERE a little cheeky but like, genius of course.)

And that’s what we’re going to do here. We’re going to talk about those associations. Sometimes, why they work or don’t. Other times, why ones you wouldn’t expect do work or how sometimes people don’t pull them off. Or how sometimes people are tricked into thinking something is good because of clever rhetoric, or something good gets tanked because of a bit of bad rhetoric. Its all going to be a zany conglomeration of the sort.

But overall, the goal is for us (including me) to think about things in new ways. Asking questions is the best way to learn, so I’m going to work my damnedest to make you all annoying, brilliant, curious buggers. We’re going to question the world together and see where it takes us.

So, any questions?


Stephanie Marceau




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