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Of Rhetoric and Writing

26 January 2010 1 comment

A guest post by my wife, Lana:

Is Rhetoric just a fancy word for ‘writing’?  (I hope not; otherwise UAFS’  “Rhetoric AND Writing.” degree contains a hated Redundancy – one of the worst beasts a writer can face.)  The two words are certainly very similar in their denotation, but as Dr. Jennings – infamous teacher of HEL – once said, there are no perfect synonyms in the English language. Rhetoric and writing have many overlaps, but are not precisely the same thing. Well actually, they are the same in some people’s minds. Rhetoric is one of those words whose definition scholars debate. Some would say any use of language is rhetoric. I’m more exclusivist.

Rhetoric is an Art form which uses Language – the spoken or written Word – to produce Reactions. It differs from writing in that it is more artful and deliberate than writing necessarily is. Writing, in its broadest sense, contains what I would call rhetoric and also what I would call, for lack of a better term ‘just writing’. I’m not trying to be a snob, just trying to make the term rhetoric more useful. A short mindless chat on gmail, a freewrite journal entry, a facebook status update, a shopping list, an instruction manual – those things I would not consider ‘Rhetoric’.  But the lines are blurry. A chat thoughtfully written to encourage or enlighten, a pondering status update (believe it or not, Art exists on facebook!) – I would include these in my definition of Rhetoric. An essay or speech would easily fall into the category.

Rhetoric is, in my mind, more or a creative act than ‘just speaking’ or ‘just writing’.

This may not help very much, but abstract words are hard to define – it’s much easier to explore them and see where they fit and where they don’t.

But still, words need definitions. Here’s the one Luke and I came up with during his last semester of school, after many readings of and about Rhetoric:

Rhetoric is a purposeful and creative reaction that uses language to produce a specific change in the way the audience thinks or feels.

Lord willing, we will explore the meaning and importance of rhetoric in blog posts for years to come.

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