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Why “Honest”?

So why is this blog called “The Honest Rhetorician” anyway?  What’s a rhetorician and why is it significant that he be honest?

Well, let me change the subject for a second.  If you google the word “rhetoric,” you will instantly be met with a barrage of academic definitions and discussions, a sampling of which I have provided here:

Along with grammar and logic or dialectic, rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric

Aristotle’s rhetoric has had an enormous influence on the development of the art of rhetoric. – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/

In its long and vigorous history rhetoric has enjoyed many definitions, accommodated differing purposes, and varied widely in what it included. – http://rhetoric.byu.edu/encompassing%20terms/rhetoric.htm

Yay. OK, now you click on “News” to find recent mentions of the word “rhetoric” in the news.  Here are the sort of headlines you might see:

America needs reality, not soaring rhetoric, from Obama

Begala: McDonnell’s rhetoric rings false

Obama to address nation tonight; residents want answers, not ‘more rhetoric’

Those are just small snippets in both cases, but hopefully you get the picture:  that we’re looking at vastly different ideas of what “rhetoric” means.  Now let’s take you, the average reader (OK, so you’re not average; neither is anyone else, but for the purposes of this discussion, that doesn’t matter).  If you ever think of rhetoric at all, chances are you think of it more as a smokescreen than an art.  That’s because the only place it is regularly used these days is in politics, where partisans will accuse each other of attempting to hide poor leadership through “empty rhetoric.”

If you listen to the politicians, you will come to view rhetoric as

Rhetoric (rět’ər-ĭk), n. The practice of giving speeches designed to make you think the speaker is a wonderful person doing a wonderful job when in fact he’s so far from great leadership that he wouldn’t recognize it if his plane crashed into Mount Rushmore.

This negative view of rhetoric is nothing new; Plato once compared rhetoric to clever cookery that masks a dish of spoiled food.  But I disagree with Plato — and the politicians.  I think rhetoric is a valuable tool.  Like all tools, it can be used for good or for bad.  It’s certainly worth learning how to use.

That’s what I’m doing, and what I invite you to do with me.  In the course of this blog (Lord willing), I’m going to try to nail down precisely what rhetoric is and why it’s important for everyone to know and use effectively.  I call the blog “The Honest Rhetorician” as a reminder that rhetoric is so much more than what the politicians and columnists say — and that it’s possible to speak (or write) rhetoric honestly.

No, it really isn’t an oxymoron.

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Categories: rhetoric
  1. lana
    28 January 2010 at 12:17 am

    That’s an, uh, interesting definition of rhetoric dear 😉 I know you’ll never be that sort of rhetorician. Way to remake language, Luke!

  2. 28 January 2010 at 9:13 am

    Wow! That’s really interesting. I am very much look forward to reading your posts and learning along with you. May the LORD, as in David’s case, take what was intended for evil (rhetoric) and use it for good!

    Keep Pressing On In Him,
    Maiden Princess 🙂

  3. Meggy T
    29 January 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Ah yes, an excellent definition 😀

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