Cicero

Rhetoric

RHETORIC: “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Certainly Justice Kennedy’s sense of marital “dignity” is over the top. But it’s not just sentimental rhetoric: It’s a kind of legal “term of heart” that can keep you up at night. – New York Times, “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club”

“Lawmakers take rhetoric to Twitter as PA House passes budget bill” – headline at abc27.com

“Trump’s Rhetoric Threatens Full GOP Field” – headline at nbcnews.com

I have some problems with the use of rhetoric in the three recent news examples above. In the first one, I question how sentimental true rhetoric should be. Certainly the classic orators derided emotional appeal as a cheap trick, subject to all kinds of logical fallacies. The classical model of Western education teaches the trivium: grammar (the foundation for reasoning), logic (the mechanics of reasoning), and rhetoric (the application of reasoning). The purpose of rhetoric was to enable constructive debate. Alas, today the notion of constructive debate is less popular even than a classical education. So perhaps it’s a sign of the times that most people today use rhetoric to mean worthless verbiage – something to be suspicious of. It also doesn’t surprise me that Michael Cobb, writing for the Times, can type out “sentimental rhetoric” without incurring the wrath of his editor.

Cobb’s example is positively Cicerone when compared to the next example. How much artful persuasion can one cram into 140 characters, anyhow? According to the story, this rhetoric amounts to the hashtags #GimmicksOverGoverning and #PAGOPfail. #Gag.

Of course, we reach our nadir with the final example. The idea that Donald Trump would effectively persuade anyone or threaten his competition is laughable. Offended at my anti-Trump political stand? No worries. I have some high-minded rhetoric for you: #TrumpSucksBooyah!

Seneca would be proud.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/the-supreme-courts-lonely-hearts-club.html?_r=0
http://abc27.com/2015/06/28/lawmakers-take-rhetoric-to-twitter-as-pa-house-passes-budget-bill/
http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/lid-trumps-rhetoric-threatens-full-gop-field-n384011

2 thoughts on “Rhetoric

  1. Anne O. Nymous

    What would you propose as solutions for each example you gave?

    Here are my suggestions:
    The third example would benefit from the substitution of “cant” for “rhetoric.” A less restrained writer might make reference to male cattle feces. The second example would mean precisely what (I think) was intended if the word “rhetoric” were simply removed. The closest I can get to solving the first example is to substitute “claptrap,” but then we’re left stranded with “legal ‘term of heart’,” which may have worked well in context.

    In completely unrelated news, I am weary unto death of “referencing.” Apparently it’s an old, established usage, but some journalist or TV show writer got hold of it, and now one can’t take a cleansing breath without inhaling one.

    Reply
    1. mark Post author

      Why refer, confer, or oblige when you can reference, conference, or obligate?

      As for your suggestions, you are spot on as always. “Claptrap” carries a heavy bias, although the New York Times has now publicly shunned neutrality (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/sunday-review/did-reddit-boss-coverage-cross-a-line-ellen-pao.html). How about “verbiage” or “opinion”?

      As for Trump, I think cant pretty much describes him. Just add an apostrophe.

      Reply

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