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Language Intelligence

Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga

By Joseph J Romm
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Language Intelligence by Joseph J Romm

Language Intelligence (2012) focuses on an aspect of language that is often overlooked or dismissed: the art of rhetoric. From the King James Bible to Shakespeare, from modern-day political campaigns to the lyrics of pop songs, rhetoric is a widely used tool – one that we all should learn to use and understand. After all, in words there is power and strength.

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Key idea 1 of 9

Even a cursory knowledge of rhetoric will make you less manipulable.

Modern society is awash with reason and empirical evidence; information abounds – and can be easily shared or double-checked online. In this flood of fact, it’s all too easy to forget the art of rhetoric and the power of language. Today, there’s hardly any place for rhetoric in the school curriculum, and academia is hardly more accommodating.

For instance, 2011 marked the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible. Scholars, of course, had plenty to say. What’s amazing is that although this translation ranks among the finest compositions in English literature, not one of these scholars deigned to discuss figures of speech.

In fact, the historical theologian Alister McGrath even insinuated that the translation’s expressiveness was mere accident.

Such willful disregard of rhetoric’s centrality in the Bible is more than a mere academic quibble. It's representative of a cultural trend – a trend that should be resisted. After all, when we understand rhetoric, we can begin to resist its charms.

Rhetoric hasn’t vanished, after all. Just think about how politicians and advertisers speak. An understanding of how rhetoric works makes it easier to recognize both a speaker’s motivation and his manipulative techniques.

Advertising wouldn’t be the same without rhetoric.

In 1992, Edward McQuarrie and David Glen Mick researched advertising spending among corporations. They found that billions were spent on language studies and that figures of speech were at the center of advertising strategies. Rhetoric played a central role in making ads as memorable as possible.

If an ad uses a pun or a metaphor, the target audience is more like to remember the ad in question. For instance, Deere & Company, which, among other products, manufacturers diesel engines, uses the tagline, “Nothing runs like a Deere.” Not the cleverest pun – but it certainly sticks!

Once you see through advertising tricks and recognize the crafty art of rhetoric, you’ll be able to make more rational purchasing decisions.

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