Wednesday, January 21, 2009

r-h-e-t-o-r-i-c: the 8 letter word

One of the words I truly hate is "rhetoric". I hate reading newpaper reviews of speeches and reading words "oh the speech was full of patriotic rhetoric....".

"Rhetoric" is a cheap way to dismiss any speech, statement or comment. If words can really change the way people think or the ideas they hold, then the word "rhetoric" shouldn't be used. Too often the term "rhetoric" is used in a context that makes it seem synonymous with "bull-shitting."

While technically that's an appropriate use of the word "rhetoric" you can see how it changes your view of what was said. It's almost like said "Yeah, he just said a bunch of words..."

Moreover too often any speech which aims at being poetic or moving is dismissed as being rhetoric. That's what upsets me with people who say Obie is just a good speaker. By the same token you could say that Reagan and JFK just spewed rhetoric. You could claim that MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" was a fine piece of rhetoric.

Surely you wouldn't say that. The were speeches that stood for something. I mean do you think FDR saying our only fear is fear itself is rhetoric? People are moved by that line and yet if you really think about it you sorta wonder "what the hell is he talking about?" He's not providing a clear course of action for people....and yet that's okay. He's not held to the standard that a modern speaker would be held to.

Don't get me wrong, some speeches are just a load of crap. I've seen high school debate, I've heard more than my share of rhetoric. But to simply classify any speech as being rhetoric is a lazy almost derogatory analysis at best.

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