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Rhetoric and Style

Rhetoric and style are ancient arts--of persuasion, expression, and effective communication--that are just as valuable to writers today as they were to students in ancient Greece and Rome.
  1. Q & A About Rhetoric (26)
  2. Readings on Rhetoric and Style (59)
  3. Rhetoric Tool Kit (130)
  4. Style Scrapbook: Passages (117)

What Is Style?
What does it mean to write "with style"? Here we consider some of the various ways in which professional writers have defined and characterized style.

Writers on Writing: The Meaning of Style
Countless books on writing promise to teach us how to improve our style. Yet over the centuries, many professional writers have challenged this attitude toward writing, rejecting the notion that style is a distinct, separable quality that can be taught or learned.

Definitions of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece and Rome
Modern theories of oral and written communication remain heavily influenced by the basic rhetorical principles introduced in ancient Greece by Isocrates and Aristotle, and in Rome by Cicero and Quintilian. Here, we'll briefly introduce these key figures and identify some of their central ideas.

An Overview of Classical Rhetoric
For a concise overview of the historical development of classical rhetoric, we invite you to read these six articles on some "clever" rhetoricians and key rhetorical concepts.

Audience Analysis Checklist
Your answers to the 20 questions in this checklist should help you conduct an effective audience analysis for a speech or written report.

Figures, Tropes, & Other Rhetorical Terms
These lists are intended to help you identify figures, tropes, and other rhetorical strategies and devices.

Top 20 Figures of Speech
Though there are hundreds of figures of speech (many of them included in our Glossary of Grammatical & Rhetorical Terms), here we'll focus on just 20 of the most common figures.

Top 20 Rhetorical Terms That We Never Learned in School*
There are hundreds of figures and tropes. And while we may not recognize their names, we use and hear many of these devices every day. So let's take a look at 20 uncommon words (most of them Latin or Greek) for some fairly common rhetorical strategies.

Brief Introductions to 30 Figures of Speech
What's the difference between a metaphor and a simile? personification and apostrophe? understatement and litotes? Of the hundreds of figures of speech, many have similar or overlapping meanings. Here we offer simple definitions and examples of 30 common figures, drawing some basic distinctions between related terms.

Review Quiz: Top 20 Figures of Speech
This quiz should help you to understand and remember the terms and concepts introduced in our page on the Top 20 Figures of Speech.

The Big Quiz on Figures of Speech in Advertising Slogans
In this review quiz, we have collected 35 of the best known slogans introduced by advertisers over the past century. Your job is to choose the one figure of speech that each slogan most clearly illustrates.

Review Quiz: Rhetorical Terms
This quiz should help you to understand, distinguish, and remember many of the rhetorical terms in our glossary.

Top 12 Logical Fallacies
For those who need a little refresher, here are 12 of the most common informal logical fallacies.

Monty Python's "Announcement for People Who Like Figures of Speech"
Monty Python's "Announcement for People Who Like Figures of Speech" not only identifies over 30 figurative devices but deftly and accurately illustrates most of them as well. To assist readers who may not be acquainted with such exotic figures as hypallage and zeugma, we have conscientiously annotated the Python team's disquisition with links to definitions and additional examples in our Glossary…

Monty Python, Figuratively Speaking
The anarchic members of Britain's favorite comedy troupe have revitalized countless figures of speech over the past 40-odd years.

Rhetorical Study Questions: Figures of Speech in Context
These ten study questions invite you to consider some of the functions of figurative language in the context of particular poems, essays, speeches, and other texts.

Passages for Rhetorical Analysis: Applying the Figures of Speech
These ten discussion questions provide opportunities to apply some of the key concepts and terms used in rhetorical analyses of essays, speeches, poems, short stories, and novels.

Rhetoric Review Questions
If you have been studying classical rhetoric, these 15 study questions will help you review some key concepts introduced by major figures in rhetorical history.

Using Similes and Metaphors to Enrich Our Writing (Part 1)
Writers use similes and metaphors to explain things, to express emotion, and to make their writing more vivid and entertaining. Discovering fresh similes and metaphors to use in your own writing also means discovering new ways to look at your subjects.

Using Similes and Metaphors to Enrich Our Writing (Part 2)
In addition to creating striking images to make our writing more interesting, similes and metaphors can be used to clarify and convey ideas.

Figurative Language Exercise: Metaphors and Similes
The eight passages in this exercise are richly developed with metaphors and similes. Your job is to identify these figures of speech and explain their significance.

Figurative Language Exercise: Personification
The eight passages in this exercise are richly developed with the rhetorical device of personification. Your job is to identify these figures of speech and explain their significance.

Irony and Metaphor Are Good for You
According to cognitive scientists who have been scanning our brains with functional MRI, irony and metaphor are significantly "more than an intellectual extravagance." They're actually good for us.

Metaphorical Overkill and Other Disfigured Figures of Speech
For over 50 years, "The New Yorker" magazine has highlighted farcical figures of speech in an occasional newsbreak called "Block That Metaphor!" Here, to illustrate how not to use figurative language, are some of our favorite specimens of metaphorical overkill.

A Quick Quiz on Lost Metaphors
To illustrate his point that metaphor "lies at the heart of language itself," Robert Claiborne examined the literal origins of hundreds of inherently figurative words. See if you can identify 10 of those words after reading Claiborne's brief histories.

Dr. Mardy Grothe's Mountain of Metaphors
Dr. Mardy Grothe has assembled the largest and most authoritative collection of metaphors, similes, and analogies on the Web.

100 Sweet Similes
Although students should have no trouble understanding most of these traditional similes for sweetness, they may find them a bit old-fashioned. If so, encourage them to create some sweet similes of their own using more contemporary subjects for comparison.

Similes That Make Us Smile
Here are a dozen similes that should make you smile--smile like a jack-o'-lantern, like the flowers of Eden, like a chain saw, like a Czechoslovakian novel, like a man advertising toothpaste, like the warm and gentle Samian sun.

100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons
Oxymorons are often found in literature, but as shown by this list of 100 awfully good examples, they are also part of our everyday speech.

Effective Rhetorical Strategies of Repetition
When it came to practicing effective strategies of repetition, rhetoricians in ancient Greece and Rome had a big bag full of tricks, each with a fancy name. Here are seven common strategies--with some up-to-date examples.

Would You Repeat That, Please?
When it came to practicing effective strategies of repetition, classical rhetoricians had a bag full of tricks. Match the names of these ten repetitive figures of speech with the appropriate definitions and examples that follow.

Twelve Maxims for Writers
Have you been guided or inspired by a writing maxim? The sentiment may be commonplace or unconventional, as long as the message is brief and related to writing. To get things started, here are a dozen writing maxims from our collection.

Writing with Lists
In descriptive prose, writers sometimes employ lists (or series) to bring a person or a place to life through the sheer abundance of precise details. Enjoy reading some examples by four major writers.

What Is a Tricolon?
A tricolon is a series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses. It's a simple enough structure, yet potentially a powerful one.

What Is Barack Obama's Secret for Giving a Great Speech?
One part of Barack Obama's secret for stirring a crowd is the magic number three. In rhetorical terms, that's a tricolon: a series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses.

Using Sentence Fragments Effectively
In formal writing, the common proscription against fragments often makes good sense. But not always. As we'll see here, the sentence fragment may be used deliberately to create a variety of powerful effects.

In Defense of Fragments, Crots, and Verbless Sentences
Incomplete sentences that bore, distract, or confuse readers should be edited and corrected. But there are occasions when fragments (or crots or verbless sentences) work just fine. Indeed, better than fine.

What Is a Metaphor?
Some metaphors--such as the comparison of life to a journey--are so common (or "conventional") that we may overlook the fact that they are metaphors. Here we look at some different kinds of metaphors, with examples drawn from poems, essays, songs, speeches, and advertisements.

Facts and Myths About the Gettysburg Address
Countless words have been written about President Abraham Lincoln's brief speech at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Some of those words are accurate; some are not.

What Are Interrupters (You Know, Like This One) Doing in Our Prose?
The contemporary interrupter is a (nerd alert) metadiscursive trick. The writer pauses to address the reader directly and signal her feelings...

Homer Simpson's Rhetoric
Homer Simpson has contributed far more to the English language than just the popular interjection "D'oh." Let's take a look at some of those rich contributions--and along the way review several rhetorical terms.

Love Is a Metaphor: 99 Metaphors of Love
As this rich collection of 99 metaphors demonstrates, love has been compared to everything from a jewel and a fevered dream to a snowmobile and an exploding cigar. Alongside quotations from Plato, Ovid, and Shakespeare you'll find fresh figures from the likes of Tom Robbins, Eminem, and Rita Mae Brown.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Metaphor
All of us, every day, speak, write, and think in metaphors. And there are countless ways of looking at them, thinking about them, using them. Here are 13 types of metaphors, with links to examples and extended definitions.

Humaphors: The Top 10 Metaphors of Stephen Colbert
As the following observations make clear, comedian Stephen Colbert knows a thing or two about drawing surprising comparisons and uncovering concealed relationships.

House Calls: The Metaphors of Dr. Gregory House
As regular viewers of "House, M.D." are aware, the show's deeply disturbed protagonist (played by Hugh Laurie) is inclined to deliver inflammatory eructations of festering figures of speech. That is, he can snap off your head with the sharp edge of a metaphor.

The Power and Pleasure of Metaphor: Writers on Writing With Metaphors
Over the centuries, writers have not only been making good metaphors but also studying these powerful figurative expressions--considering where metaphors come from, what purposes they serve, why we enjoy them, and how we understand them. Here are the thoughts of 15 writers, philosophers, and critics on the power and pleasure of metaphor.

2,000 Pure Fools: An Anthology of Aphorisms
Dr. Mardy Grothe's latest "word & language" book should be an exciting voyage of discovery for committed readers. In "Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin With the Word 'If'" (HarperCollins, 2009), Grothe introduces us to nearly 2,000 nuggets of conditional wisdom--or at least of apparent wisdom.

Pompous Proverbs: An Exercise in Brevity and Clarity
Proverbs illustrate twin principles of effective writing: directness and conciseness. In this exercise, you will translate 12 wordy versions of well-known proverbs into their original simple forms.

Timely Metaphors
If you put any trust in proverbs, you already know that time heals, steals, and flies. And you're equally aware that time is something we all make and take, keep and save, spend, waste, kill, and lose. Here, if you have the time to spare, are twenty metaphorical definitions of time.

Metaphors Be With You
With the same wit and enthusiasm that he brought to his earlier studies of chiasmus and paradox, Dr. Mardy Grothe sets out to refresh our language and our spirits with this entertaining collection of figurative comparisons: "I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like."

The Ten Greatest Hyperboles of All Time
In defense of hyperbole as a forceful figure of speech, we offer these ten examples of the trope at its best--imaginative, insightful, and appropriately outlandish.

The Rhetoric of Tony Soprano and Uncle Junior
We may have said "ciao ciao" to "The Sopranos," but let's never forget our favorite crime family's gifts to the ancient field of rhetoric.

Complimentary of Chess: An Exercise in Alliteration
This exercise in alliteration originally appeared in "Gleanings From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, Science and Art," edited by Charles C. Bombaugh (T. Newton Kurtz, 1860).

Alliterative Absurdities
This comic poem originally appeared in the anthology "Such Nonsense!" (1918). Try reading the poem aloud to appreciate the apt alliterations of the anonymous author.

The Siege Of Belgrade
Countless versions of this alliterative poem appeared in American and British magazines throughout the 19th century.

Trying Skying: An Exercise in Anadiplosis
Anadiplosis is a figurative device in which the last word of one line or clause is repeated at the start of the next line or clause. In this 19th-century poem, anadiplosis serves to link all 16 lines.

Bdelygmia: The Perfect Rant
Derived from the Greek word for "abuse," the rhetorical device of bdelygmia is a form of invective: an exuberant rant, a litany of disparaging remarks, a string of stinging criticisms.

How to Rant: Bernard Levin's All-Purpose Invective
Feel free to vent your wrath and exorcise your frustrations by adapting any or all of the 109 insulting adjectives in this powerful invective composed by British journalist Bernard Levin.

Chiasmus: The Crisscross Figure of Speech
If you want to leave your audience with something to remember the next time you write or give a speech, try employing the Power of X: chiasmus.

What Are "Snarl Words" and "Purr Words"?
The terms snarl words and purr words were coined by S. I. Hayakawa to describe highly connotative language that often serves as a substitute for serious thought and well-reasoned argument.

How to Flatter an Audience With Euphemisms, Dysphemisms, and Distinctio
One of the craftiest orations in the history of American politics was the "Whiskey Speech," delivered in April 1952 by a young Mississippi legislator named Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.

Ted Sorensen on the Kennedy Style of Speech-Writing
Many of President Kennedy's rhetorical strategies are worth emulating, regardless of the occasion or the size of the audience. So the next time you address your colleagues or classmates from the front of the room, keep these principles in mind.

Rhetorical Analysis of E. B. White's "The Ring of Time"
One way to develop our own essay-writing skills is to carefully examine how professional writers achieve a range of different effects in their work. Such a study is called a rhetorical analysis. Here you will find a sample rhetorical analysis of E. B. White's essay "The Ring of Time."

A New Song of New Similes, by John Gay
As you read John Gay’s mini-anthology of "New Similes," consider how many of these figures might today be thought of as clichés.

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