Rhetoric is the art of using language with persuasive effect. Aristotle wrote the classic book on the subject, On Rhetoric, in the 4th century BC. For centuries, the study of rhetoric—the ability to speak in public and to move audiences with logic, emotion and credibility—was an important component of many educational systems. Many of the rhetorical devices that speakers use today were developed centuries ago.
The word “rhetoric” comes from the Greek word ῥητορικός (rhetorikos), which means “oratorical”. “Rhetorikos” comes from ῥήτωρ (rhetor), meaning “public speaker”. That word, in turn, comes from the verb ἐρῶ (ero), meaning “to speak” or “to say”.
Simply put, a rhetorical device is a speaking technique that speakers use to persuade an audience to consider and accept the speaker’s point of view. When used properly, rhetorical devices can have both logical and emotional appeal, and thus be very effective. Public speakers should know how to use them, and should endeavour to incorporate them into their speeches and presentations.
This post marks the start of a series on rhetorical devices. Each subsequent post will examine a single rhetorical device. I will explain its meaning and use, and will look at examples from speeches, presentations and literature.