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Word of the Day: Rhetoric

Word of the Day: Rhetoric

Rhetoric is a word we here often. Simply put, rhetoric is the ability to communicate an idea using written or spoken word effectively. The goal of rhetoric is not only to share an idea with others, but to share it in a way that others are likely to accept it. Maybe a simpler way to define rhetoric then is the "art or skill of persuasion". Dictionary.com has as the first definition that rhetoric is "the undue use or exaggeration of display; bombast." Personally I am not satisfied with that definition at all, but I understand it. In today's parlance we tend to focus on the poor use of rhetoric as the only use. People are not taught how to effectively communicate today as they were in days past. Most of us are familiar with the concept of a "rhetorical question" which is not intended to be answered, merely pondered, but how many people are familiar with the rhetorical triangle?

Aristotle taught that a speaker’s ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas: logos, ethos, and pathos. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.

Another way the word rhetoric is used to day is to allow us permission to dismiss someone's arguments we don't have a strong rebuttal to. This is perhaps the most common use today unfortunately which is why we get what we have on Dictionary.com. Somehow the recognition of strong rhetorical devices gives us lease to reject an argument whole cloth. I don't know how we got here, but it doesn't help with actual communication as far as I can tell. We should not reject rhetoric, but learn how to use it ourselves. Only when everyone is able to effectively communicate can we actually succeed in sharing our ideas.

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Jamie Larson
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