Is there a worse feeling than losing an argument? It’s always frustrating to not be able to articulate your viewpoint or leave a conversation feeling like you didn’t get your ideas across effectively. The art of persuasion is an art as old as time: for as long as humans have been talking, they’ve been arguing. Ancient Greeks in particular were obsessed with the methodology behind persuasion, and started to label the myriad ways we express ourselves when trying to get a point across. The resulting list of communication tools is commonly referred to now as rhetorical devices. Rhetorical devices are important for any writer to master; after all, what is writing if not expressing an idea and viewpoint? In this post we’ll define what a rhetorical device is, what are some of the many types of rhetorical devices, and how they have been used by storytellers for millenia.
Rhetorical Devices Definition
First, let’s define rhetorical devices
Articulating what a rhetorical device actually is is no easy task– it’s a broad term. Think of what its parts mean: devices used in rhetoric.
So… anything we say in conversation? Not quite. What are rhetorical devices?
RHETORICAL DEVICE DEFINITION
What Are Rhetorical Devices?
A rhetorical device is any linguistic tool used to deliver a point or idea. Often it is used in the context of persuasion, since that is what rhetoric literally means, but it can be used towards any goal.
Rhetorical Strategies List:
As I’m sure you can tell just based on the types of rhetorical devices names, almost all rhetorical devices come directly from Ancient Greece – they may not have begun there, but it’s there where they were identified and labeled. Here’s a great TED talk on one of the most famous Greeks’ thoughts on rhetoric.
What Are Rhetorical Devices
Types of rhetorical devices
Let’s look at a few of the most common rhetorical devices examples. This is far from an exhaustive rhetorical strategies list, but it’s a good sampling of tools that are helpful for any writer, novice or professional. If we wanted to cover all rhetorical devices, we’d never end. Without further ado, here is an abbreviated list of rhetorical devices definitions.
Alliteration is the purposeful repetition of consonants in a phrase or sentence. For example: “Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
This is not to be confused with assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds no matter the letters involved.
Aporia is the insincere expression of doubt, usually expressed through questions. It’s often used to build up anticipation for the solution the audience knows is coming: “But there’s no way a device could fit all of these features, right? And certainly not for the low price of $100? Introducing [product which has all these features for the low price of $100].”
Like aporia, hypophora is one of the rhetorical elements which utilizes a question as a rhetorical tool. But instead of asking a question that casts doubt, hypophora raises a question that you as a writer or speaker intend to answer. Often hypophora is used to frame your argument. I could have started this definition of hypophora with hypophora by asking, “What is hypophora?”
Litotes is the deliberate use of understatement to emphasize the contrary point, often in the form of a double negative. For example, “you won’t regret it” to mean “you’ll be happy,” or “you’re not too bad” to mean “you’re really good.” If you want more examples, look to any Joss Whedon project.
One of the most common rhetorical devices examples, parallelism is when phrases in a sentence or sentences repeat the same or similar grammatical structure. There are examples of this in all sorts of writing, but lyrics in pop songs are particularly rife with parallelism.
Think, for example, of “Everytime We Touch” by Cascade: “Cause every time we touch, I get this feeling / And every time we kiss, I swear I could fly.” The grammatical structure in each line is almost identical, and, therefore, catchy.
Synecdoche is using the part of something to refer to its whole, or vice versa. For example, saying, “I just got some new wheels,” when referring to a car, or “I can lend a hand,” when referring to your whole body. For whole representing a part, think about how we often refer to sports teams: “Boston won that game last night.” The city of Boston didn’t win, a team representing the city did.
Here’s a fun one to round out our list of rhetorical devices. It’s hard to think of an example for tmesis that doesn’t involve expletives. Tmesis is when you interrupt a word with another word. When writing tmesis on the page, we usually use dashes: “fan-freaking-tastic,” “un-f***ing-believable.”
What Are Rhetorical Devices Definition
Rhetorical Devices in Action
We could spend all day listing rhetorical techniques because there’s an endless amount of them, but it’s probably more helpful to see how rhetorical devices manifest in almost every type of media we consume. Let’s further define rhetorical devices by looking at how writers, filmmakers and beyond use various devices in their own work.
Hypophora: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The Monty Python troupe was famous for its wit and wordplay, so it should be no surprise the team utilized countless rhetorical devices. In this scene, King Arthur is lectured by his servant: “Oh, a king. And how'd you get that, ay? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma…” The servant uses hypophora (asking a question he immediately answers) and also a bit of parallelism (“By exploiting… by hanging…”).
Synecdoche: Synecdoche, New York (2008)
The obvious choice for synecdoche, as Synecdoche, New York popularized the term and is an entire movie playing with its definition. In one of Charlie Kaufman’s most complex works, he follows a man who tries to represent his entire life in a play. A part (the play) representing a whole (life). It’s a great example of rhetorical devices storytelling.
Alliteration: “Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell (1970)
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Here’s an example of rhetorical devices in poetry. One of the greatest songwriters of all time, Joni Mitchell knows how to manipulate and play with rhetorical techniques like few others.
Here, she utilizes alliteration, repeating the P sound: paved, paradise, put, parking. The result is a catchy and memorable line.
What is Conflict?
What are rhetorical devices? Now that you know the answer, and now you know how to use rhetorical techniques to strengthen your writing, it’s time to zoom out and think about how to structure the story you’re telling. A story without friction is no story at all, so dig into how to write a compelling arc with our guide to conflict.