The study of rhetoric stretches back to classical Greece. Today the term is most commonly taken pejoratively, meaning bombastic or exaggerated language. But rhetoric also has a neutral meaning—rhetoric is the art or science of persuasion by means of stylistic and structural techniques. The study of rhetoric is useful because it encourages us to think of writing (and speaking, for that matter) as a series of strategic choices. Every attempt to put words together includes choices about which words to use (diction) and how to arrange them (syntax). Rhetoric is also useful because it encourages thinking about one’s audience. Different audiences require different rhetorical choices.
Perhaps the first rhetorical choice a writer makes—and all writers make this choice whether they realize or not—is diction, or what words to use. Different words, even if they ostensibly mean the same thing, have different connotations. Words derive their connotations from two sources: people’s common experience and an individual’s personal experience. Words represent ideas, events, objects, but also the feelings we attach to ideas, events, and objects. Thus, the word rat represents a certain kind of rodent—among other things. That is its denotative meaning. But a rat also evokes in us feelings of fear and disgust—its connotations.
Idiom is a use of words, a grammatical construction peculiar to a given language, or an expression that cannot be translated literally into a second language.
Levels of diction. There are at least four levels of diction: formal, informal, colloquial, and slang. Formal refers to the level of usage common in serious books and lofty discourse; informal refers to the level of usage found in the relaxed but polite and cultivated conversation; colloquial refers to everyday usage and may include terms and constructions accepted in that group but not universally acceptable; and slang refers to a group of newly coined words that are not yet a part of formal usage. It should be noted that the accepted diction of one age is often unacceptable to another.
IMAGERY: the representation through language of sense experience
Auditory imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to sound.
Gustatory imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to taste.
Kinesthetic imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to movement or tension.
Olfactory imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to smell.
Tactile imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to touch.
Visual imagery. The representation through language of an experience pertaining to sight.
Alliteration. The repetition of initial consonant sounds in words, as in "rough and ready."
Assonance. The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds, especially in stressed syllables, without repetition of consonants.
Consonance. The repetition of consonant sounds--not limited to the first letters of words.
Onomatopoeia. The use of a word whose sound suggests its meaning: bang, clang, buzz, sigh, murmur.
Syntax is the order or arrangement of words in a sentence. Individual words have meanings: nouns are the names of persons, places, or things; verbs express action; adjectives describe; and so forth. But only sentences can convey complex relationships between ideas, and the ability to use clear, forceful, and well-constructed sentences is a measure of one’s ability to think. Therefore, the type, structure, and length of sentences provide significant clues to the thought processes of a writer or speaker.
Parallelism is one of the most useful and flexible rhetorical techniques. Done well, parallelism imparts grace and power to writing. It refers to any structure which brings together a series of related words, phrases, or clauses. In other words, equivalent items (those joined by coordinate conjunctions) must be placed in comparable grammatical structures. Parallel items are joined by coordinate conjunctions (especially and, or, nor) and correlative conjunctions (either/or, neither/nor/, not only/but also).
Faulty Parallelism. If parallelism is ignored, grammar and coherence are ruined.
Isocolon. An isocolon exists when parallel structures have the same number of words and sometimes even the same number of syllables.
Tricolon. Three has always been a magic number. The idea is simple: lists of all kinds (things, qualities, reasons, examples) tend to come across most powerfully when they contain three items. The tricolon is a sentence consisting of three parts of equal importance and length, usually three independent clauses.
Climax. A climax in structure exists when the arrangement of parallel words, phrases, or clauses is in an order of increasing importance.
Antithesis. “The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, often in parallel structure. Conjunctions that express antithesis include but, yet, and while.
Antithesis can occur when the wording contrasts, when the sense of the statement contrasts, or when both contrast.
Repetition is another useful tool available to writers. Repetition allows a writer or speaker to hammer home an idea, an image, a relationship, to force the reader or listener to pay attention. Two classic examples of the incredible power of repetition are Mark Antony’s “They are all honorable men” speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar anad Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Examine one of the classic instances of repetition, from a speech by Winston Churchill after the British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. France had fallen to Nazi Germany, the United States was still neutral, and Britain stood alone:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and
Oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. . . .
Churchill’s thundering we shall fights fall like hammer strokes, building to that emphatic, defiant, and irresistible we shall never surrender. In 1940 Churchill’s rhetoric was perhaps the most important weapon deployed against Adolph Hitler. “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”—Winston Churchill
Alliteration is the repetition of initial identical consonant sounds.
As with any rhetorical techniques, alliteration doesn’t make an argument more intelligent. Done well, however, it can please the reader and make the reader more receptive to the argument. Like any strong spice, alliteration should be used sparingly.
Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of successive clauses. In Churchill’s speech it is the repetition of the words we shall fight.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”
Antimetabole is the repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order.
Chiasmus is the reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses but without the repetition of words.
Polyptoton is the repetition of words from the same root or of the same word used as a different part of speech.
Polysyndeton is the repetition of conjunctions.
Anastrophe or inversion is the inversion of natural word order.
Apposition is the placing of two nouns side by side, the second of which serves as an explanation of the first.
Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions between a series of related clauses. The use of commas with no intervening conjunction speeds up the flow of the sentence.
Ellipsis is the deliberate omission of a word or words implied by context.
Parenthesis involves the insertion of some verbal unit in a position that interrupts the normal flow of the sentence.
Grammatical types. Sentences are divided into four grammatical types.
Simple sentence—one independent clause.
· The dog barks.
Complex Sentence—one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
· After the dog barks, it goes to sleep.
Compound sentence—two or more independent clauses.
· The dog barks, and then the dog goes to sleep
Compound-complex sentence—two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.
· After the dog barks, it goes to sleep, and then it wakes up.
Loose and periodic sentences. A loose sentence is a sentence that follows the customary word order of English sentences, i.e., subject verb object. The main idea of the sentence is presented first and is then followed by a string of details. The periodic sentence, on the other hand, is not grammatically complete until the end of the sentence.
Loose sentence: Jane played the violin with an intensity never before seen in a high
school music class. (The sentence is grammatically complete after
Periodic sentence: Love, as anyone knows except those who happen to be afflicted
with it, is blind. (The sentence is not grammatically complete until
“Delay, of course, is the secret weapon of the periodic sentence. By holding off the final words of the basic statement until the last possible moment, the sentence builds its own small feeling of suspense.” Lucille Payne, The Lively Art of Writing
Position. The proper place for a word, or group of words, which a writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end of the sentence. The effectiveness of the periodic sentence comes from the prominence it gives to the main statement.
“The principle that the proper place for what is to be made most prominent is the end applies equally to the words of a sentence, to the sentences of a paragraph, and to the paragraphs of a composition.” William Strunk, Jr., Elements of Style
Rhetorical Question. A rhetorical question conveys a point rather than expects an answer.
Sentence Openers. One way to provide variety in our writing is to experiment with the following openers.
· John fought the battle.
Expletive (both exclamatory and grammatical)
· Wow, that was amazing!
· It is true that I enjoy learning this material
· But John didn’t laugh.
Adverb (single word or clause)
· First, we must assess the students’ needs.
· When the ship arrived safely, the passengers jumped ashore.
· On the other hand, John may have known all along.
· By the way, John didn’t cry.
· After the game we went home.
· To be certain, he pondered a moment before making his decision.
· Tired, but happy, the old man crossed the sea.
· The ship having arrived safely, the passengers jumped ashore.
· Gone was the wind that had brought us here.
· Tired is he who faithfully does all his work