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Words Like Loaded Pistols

Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

By Sam Leith
12-minute read
Audio available
Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith

Words Like Loaded Pistols (2012) is a guide to identifying rhetoric and using it to your advantage. These blinks use historical, contemporary and everyday examples to show how rhetoric is a part of everything we do, which is why it’s such an essential topic to examine.

  • Anyone who wants to better understand the science behind political jargon
  • Students and professionals striving to become better public speakers and writers

Sam Leith is the literary editor of the Spectator and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, Evening Standard and Guardian, among other publications.

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Words Like Loaded Pistols

Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

By Sam Leith
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith
Synopsis

Words Like Loaded Pistols (2012) is a guide to identifying rhetoric and using it to your advantage. These blinks use historical, contemporary and everyday examples to show how rhetoric is a part of everything we do, which is why it’s such an essential topic to examine.

Key idea 1 of 7

Rhetoric is unavoidable, and everybody uses it.

The word “rhetoric” might remind you of your pretentious college roommate’s major or the nonsensical jargon hurled around by politicians, but, in fact, we all use rhetoric every single day.

Rhetoric is all about the art of influencing people through words, whether they’re written or spoken. So, as much as we might try to dismiss it as outdated, stuck up or even deceptive, rhetoric determines the tone of this very sentence, and it’s for rhetorical reasons that you speak one way to your best friend and another to a job interviewer.

After all, how often do you use language without the intention of influencing someone?

It’s hard to avoid because words are a tool for communication, which is the mutual exchange of information. And every piece of information, whether it’s emotional, scientific or factual, will affect your feelings, opinions or actions.

However, in this day and age, the term “political rhetoric” is often used disparagingly even though it’s impossible to avoid rhetorical strategies in politics. For instance, Obama’s critics have ridiculed him for being too wordy and full of air. They don’t think he’s got much substance beyond speaking well. Compare that view with that of Republican Phyllis Schlafly, who praised Sarah Palin for being a “woman who worked with her hands.”

But naturally, in every speech she gives, Palin works to influence her audience. Regardless of what people might think, she uses rhetoric. In fact, even people who are critical of rhetoric use it all the time. That’s because accusing someone of being a smooth-talking swindler requires some smooth talking – get it?

That “get it?” is itself a common rhetorical strategy known as a rhetorical question.

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