What is rhetoric?

We explain what rhetoric is, the elements of discourse, figures and rhetorical questions. Its relationship with oratory and dialectic.

What is rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the discipline that is interested in the study and systematization of the procedures and expressive techniques of language , which in addition to their usual communicative purposes are aimed at persuading or embellishing what has been said.

It is a discipline that crosses numerous fields of knowledge, among which are literature , politics , journalism, advertising , education , law , etc.

The elements that rhetoric studies are in principle verbal, that is, pertaining to language, but not only spoken: written expression and even the joint use of images and text may well be of interest, especially in contemporary forms of Speech making .

The beginnings of this discipline date back to Greco-Roman antiquity. In ancient Greece it was widely studied, and understood as the ability to persuade others through spoken words.

Then it also took its place in the courts of Imperial Rome and constituted a fundamental part of European medieval education, where it occupied an essential place among humanistic disciplines, at least until the time of Romanticism .

According to the classical considerations of rhetoric, all discourse is configured from three elements :

  • Inventio or invention . The selection of the contents of the discourse, that is, the particular choice of topics in memory, in common places (or topoi ), the ideas of their own or inherited from third parties, in short, that may serve the communicative purposes have.
  • Device . The organization of the elements of the invention in a structured, hierarchical whole, that is, organized according to the plot convenience, using stories, expositions or explanations to mobilize the other through emotional, rational or moral ways.
  • Elocutio . Equivalent to what we consider “style” today, it is the choice of the appropriate linguistic resources to verbally express the materials previously collected and ordered. This implies rhetorical figures, puns, etc.

Rhetoric, oratory and dialectic

oratory rhetoric
Public speaking is the application of rhetoric to oral discourse.

These three terms should not be handled as synonyms, since they are not, although often in everyday speech we can use them more or less interchangeably. On the one hand, rhetoric is the “art of good saying”, that is, the ability or talent to give the statement the expressiveness necessary to make it really persuasive. On the other hand, the other concepts are:

  • Oratorical . Considered by some as a literary genre , oratory could be understood as the form of application to the oral discourse of rhetorical elements, that is, the ability to apply rhetoric to a spoken discourse. Put simply, speaking is the art of speaking effectively. For that reason, oratory and rhetoric possess many common boundaries.
  • Dialectic . On the other hand, the dialectic was understood by the ancient Greeks as “the art of conversation” (the word includes the Greek words dia -, “reciprocity” or “exchange”, and logos , “word”), and it differed from the oratory in which it taught to speak well in front of others, while the dialectic taught to debate. The famous philosopher Socrates practiced the dialectic with his students, challenging them through conversation to think about the topics of interest.

Rhetorical figures

Also known as literary figures, rhetorical figures are turns or stylistic resources, that is, mechanisms of language that serve to illustrate, beautify or stylistically enrich speech .

In both spoken and written language, both poetic and informal, these types of resources allow the individual to express more with less, altering the traditional or customary configuration of what was said. Some examples of rhetorical figures are:

  • Alliteration . It involves the repetition of sounds in close or continuous words. 
  • Allusion . It is the reference to a reality or fact without mentioning it.
  • Anaphora . It is the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row.
  • Analogy . It is the use of figures that establish a link between different concepts, based on the similarity between them.
  • Anastrophe . It is the inversion of the order of successive words within a sentence.
  • Antonomasia . It is the substitution of a proper name for a known or popular expression.
  • Antithesis . Poses a meaningful contrast of words or phrases.
  • Apocope . It is the elimination of a sound at the end of the word.
  • Apostrophe . It is the appeal or call to a recipient on an individual basis.
  • Asyndeton . It implies the elimination of links in a sentence.
  • Calambur . It consists of altering the union of the words and then modifying the meaning of the sentence.
  • Cataphor . It is the anticipation of an element or idea that will be expressed later, which was not yet mentioned in the sentence.
  • Comparison . It establishes a relationship of similarity between a real element and an imaginary one that resembles it by some similarity.
  • Concatenation . It consists of the repetition of chained words and occurs when the last word of a sentence is the same with which the next sentence begins.
  • Bypass . It is the repetition of the same word with different reflexive morphemes. They can be in different verb modes, feminine, masculine, plural, singular, etc.
  • Ellipsis . It consists of deleting one or more words without altering the meaning of the sentence.
  • Emphasis . It is the action of highlighting or accentuating something with the aim of highlighting one characteristic over the others.
  • Enumeration . It is the enumeration of a series of elements or qualities that maintain a relationship.
  • Epithet . It is the use of adjectives that are not necessary and that do not add any information other than to emphasize what is said.
  • Etopeya . It is the description of psychological traits of a character.
  • Gradation . It consists of ordering an idea or concept from least to greatest importance.
  • Hyperbaton . It involves altering the order of the elements in a sentence.
  • Hyperbole . It is an exaggeration with the aim of degrading or magnifying.
  • Irony . It expresses the opposite of what is truly believed.
  • Metaphor . It is the identification of a real object with an imaginary one, which maintains a relationship of similarity to each other.
  • Metonymy . It is the designation of an object or idea with the name of another or another, with which it is linked by a causal or dependent relationship.
  • Onomatopoeia . It is the use of words that have a pronunciation that imitates or suggests sounds of nature.
  • Oxymoron . It links in the same phrase two terms that are contradictory to each other.
  • Parallelism . It is the repetition of the same grammatical structure.
  • Paranomasia . It is the use of two words with similar sounds, but different meanings.
  • Circumlocution . It is the use of more words than necessary to refer to an idea or concept. It is an indirect way of referring to something, through its qualities.
  • Personification . It involves the use of human qualities to inanimate beings or animals. It is also known under the name of prosopopeya .
  • Pleonasm . It is the sum of terms that are not necessary, in order to emphasize the expression of what you want to convey.
  • Polipote . It is the repetition of a word, but with different reflexive morphemes (plural, singular, verb mode, gender).
  • Polysyndeton . It is the multiplication of links unnecessarily.
  • Prosopography . It is the physical or external description of a character.
  • Reduplication . It is the continuous repetition of the same word.
  • Reticence . It consists of expressing an idea halfway, generating suspense or mystery in the reader.
  • Portrait . It is the description of internal or external features of a character.
  • Pun . It is the repetition of the same word, but in a different order.
  • Sarcasm . It consists of the use of irony to offend or insult.
  • Symbol . When an object represents or alludes to something imaginary, abstract or spiritual. For example, a white dove symbolizes peace or a woman with a bandage on her eyes and a scale, justice.
  • Synecdoche . It is the designation of an idea or object with the name of another object or idea with which it maintains a relationship of inclusion.
  • Synesthesia . It is the mixture of sensations with feelings or of sensations with different senses.
  • Tmesis . It is the fragmentation of a term.

Rhetoric examples or literary figures

    1. Incredible. (Tmesis)
    2. I watched this movie millions of times. (Hyperbole)
    3. I said goodbye while stroking her velvety cheeks . (Metaphor)
    4. When we got back from the party, he was so tired that he fell asleep like a baby just sat on the couch. ( Comparison )
    5. He woke up with the rooster kikiriki at dawn. (Onomatopoeia)
    6. Julio Cortázar was a lover of boxing and jazz, as well as an unclassifiable storyteller. (Etopeia)
    7. He was faithful, noble, kind, a gentleman, but most of all an excellent father. (Enumeration)
    8. Although she was barely 16, she was a mature, responsible young woman who had assumed with total responsibility, and without any hesitation, the care of her little brothers. But it was no less cheerful and fun for that than before the war left life as she had known it until then. (Portrait)
    9. The plot revolves around the robbery of a Rubens. (i.e. from a painting by Rubens) (Metonymy)
    10. Lie, lie, that something will remain. (Reduplication)
    11. He has three mouths to feed and was left without a job (“three mouths” instead of “three children”). (Synecdoche)
    12. How do you want me to love you if the one I want to love doesn’t love me ? (Derivation)
    13. Juan is a good man, although he doesn’t seem like it. (Apocope)
    14. The red blood poured down his forehead, to stain the white snow where he lay. (Epithet)
    15. I ask God (instead of saying: “I ask God”) (Anastrophe).
    16. When I found it, it looked like I had seen a ghost. (Allusion)
    17. Faster, that time is money. (It means that both time and gold are valuable) (Analogy)
    18. There are three musicians I blindly admire: John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Freddie Mercury. (Cataphor)
    19. Your face, tender and sincere ; your hands , soft and warm . (Parallelism)
    20. I would have loved to go to the recital of the Queen of Pop. (“Queen of Pop” instead of Madonna) (Periphrasis)
    21. The wind whistled all night without ceasing. (Personification or Prosopopeia)
    22. The sweet but at times sad melody played throughout the scene. (Synesthesia)
    23. The more fortune he amassed, the poorer he felt. (Antithesis)
    24. The silence stunned my ears, and the darkness dazzled me. (Oxymoron)
    25. O eternal sea, take me, take me away so that I cannot return to this land of traitors! (Apostrophe)
    26. But how neat your room is! (Use a real-sounding expression to poke fun at the mess) (Irony)
    27. Fall down, get up, try again. (Asyndeton)
    28. Each and every one of you must get involved if we want to reverse this situation. (Pleonasm)
    29. Who would think it, who would say it, who would do it. (Anaphora)
    30. Diana’s tears were already running down her cheeks . (Hyperbaton)
    31. The night makes you fear and think and miss and cry. (Polysyndeton)
    32. In his face there is a look , in his look a plea , a plea that I do not understand. (Concatenation)
    33. “We need to live simply so that others can simply live,” Mahatma Gandhi. (Pun)
    34. “Three sad tigers eat wheat in a wheat field.” (Alliteration)
    35. The hedgehog bristles with laughter. (Paranomasia)
    36. How do you want me to love you … (Polipote)
    37. Once again, his team took the laurels. (Laurels symbolize triumph) (Symbol)

What is a rhetorical question

As a rhetorical question, it is called one whose objective is not to express a doubt or ask for an answer or an explanation about a matter, but to give some emphasis to what is being expressed or to suggest a statement .

The rhetorical question, as such, is a literary figure, also known by the name of rhetorical interrogation or erotheme.

The rhetorical question consists of an interrogation launched without waiting for an answer back , since the answer is implicit in the very way in which the question is formulated, implying an idea or a point of view that, said thus, functions as an affirmation , suggestion or an emphasis.

The way in which the rhetorical question achieves this is by simulating a dialogue or a consultation with the interlocutor, but assuming that the audience is of the same opinion.

The rhetorical question is used in argumentative speeches and texts , where the aim is to persuade the interlocutor, the public or the receiver, around a point of view on a matter or question, and move them to reflect so that they change their position.

 Examples of rhetorical questions

    • How long are we going to wait for the president to speak?
    • How many times do I have to tell you to do your homework?
    • When will this torment end?
    • But what is happening to me?
    • Why so much indifference to the problems of the city?
    • Where has my joy of living gone?
    • Will we need to go on strike to be heard?
    • Shouldn’t we always help those in need?
    • Who can love such a person in his life?
    • Who but you was going to help me?

Rhetoric of Image

As rhetoric of the image or visual rhetoric, it is called that theoretical and practical discipline that deals with the procedures and techniques that visual communication uses to transmit to its public in the most effective, aesthetic and persuasive way, a visual message that convince, move and generate remembrance.

In this sense, the rhetoric of the image is widely used in the area of ​​audiovisual communications, mainly in the fields of advertising and graphic design.

The “Rhetoric of the Image” is also called the study that the French semiologist Roland Barthes dedicated to the advertising message in this regard.

  1. Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Aristotle rhetoric
“Rhetoric” is a work of Aristotle that consists of three books.

Aristotle of Estagira (384-322 BC) was one of the most important Greek philosophers of antiquity, considered alongside his teacher Plato as the fathers of Western philosophy .

Among his many works, he wrote the Rhetoric , where he expresses his considerations about what he considered a tekhné. In other words, Aristotle defines rhetoric as  a technique to persuade or refute . He describes it as a counterpart to the dialectic, which is dedicated to expose.

The Rhetoric of Aristotle consists of three books: the first deals with the structure and species of rhetoric; the second about what can be reasoned and what is subject to reason or emotions; and the third on the most appropriate way to build speeches to persuade.

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