For a lot of people, the word “rhetoric” is essentially defined as the opposite of truth. See the following headlines from Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of RHETORIC:
– “Impoverished students deserve solutions, not rhetoric.” Letter to Chicago Tribune.
– “All that other stuff is rhetoric and bull. I don’t think about it.” Athletic coach.
– “[What I’ve just said] is not rhetoric, or metaphor. It’s only truth.” Columnist attacking race prejudice.
– “President Bush’s speech was long on rhetoric and short on substance.” New York Times.
Hmmmm. No wonder I got the cold shoulder from Venezuelan government employees when I said I wanted to ask them about “Chavez’ rhetoric.” Friendly voices turned cold as stone. In their minds, I was asking for information about their president’s lies and deceit. So, I’m a participant in the mission to rescue the meaning of rhetoric.
To begin this discussion, I offer the following definitions of the term:
– “It is the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” This is the founding definition, offered by master pragmatic philosopher, Aristotle.
– “The good man speaking well.” Roman political adviser, Quintillian. I’m sure he used “man” in the generic sense.
– “Rhetoric is the application of reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.” Francis Bacon.
– “Rhetoric is the study of misunderstandings and their remedies.” Another rhetoric-rescuer, British scholar, I. A. Richards, 1936.
-“Rhetoric is that which creates an informed appetite for the good.” Southern scholar who did English composition missionary work at the University of Chicago, 1948.
– “Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature, respond to symbols.” Academic wild man and auto-didact, Kenneth Burke, 1950.
That’s enough to get your noodle moving on a Monday morning.