Rhetorical Theory is a subject rife with jargon and special terminology. This page explains commonly used rhetorical terms in alphabetical order. The brief definitions here are intended to serve as a quick reference rather than an in-depth discussion. For more information, click the terms.
Absurdity. The exaggeration of a point beyond belief.
Accumulatio. The emphasis or summary of previously made points or inferences by excessive praise or accusation.
Acutezza. Wit or wordplay used in rhetoric.
Ad hominem. Appealing to one's prejudice, emotions, or special interest rather than to one's reason.
Adjunction. When a verb is placed at the beginning or the end of a sentence instead of in the middle. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "At the beginning, as follows: 'Fades physical beauty with disease or age.' At the end, as follows: 'Either with disease or age physical beauty fades.'"
Aesthetics. The examination of symbolic expression to determine its rhetorical possibilities.
Anecdote. A brief narrative describing an interesting or amusing event.
Animorum motus. The emotions.
Antanaclasis. From Greek ̩ ̩ἀντανάκλασις, a figure of speech involving a pun, consisting of the repeated use of the same word, each time with different meanings.
Anthimeria. Substitution of one part of speech for another (such as a noun used as a verb). It is traditionally called antimeria.
Antimetabole. Repetition of two words or short phrases, but in reversed order to establish a contrast. It is a specialised form of chiasmus.
Antinome. (pronounced an-ta-nome) Two ideas about the same topic that can be worked out to a logical conclusion, but the conclusions contradict each other.
Antiptosis. The substitution of one case for another.
Antistrophe. In rhetoric, repeating the last word in successive phrases. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'Since the time when from our state concord disappeared, liberty disappeared, good faith disappeared, friendship disappeared, the common weal disappeared.'" Also see epiphora.
Antithesis. The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced or parallel words, phrases, or grammatical structures; the second stage of the dialectic process.
Antonomasia. The substitution of an epithet for a proper name.
Aphaeresis. The omission of a syllable from the beginning of a word.
Apocope. The omission of the last letter or syllable of a word.
Apokoinu construction A blend of two clauses through a lexical word which has two syntactical functions, one in each of the blended clauses.
Apophasis / Apophesis. Pretending to deny something as a means of implicitly affirming it. As paralipsis, mentioning something by saying that you will not mention it. The opposite of occupatio.
Aporia. An attempt to discredit an opposing viewpoint by casting doubt on it.
Aposiopesis. An abrupt stop in the middle of a sentence; used by a speaker to convey unwillingness or inability to complete a thought or statement.
Apostrophe. From Greek ἀποστροφή, a figure of speech consisting of a sudden turn in a text towards an exclamatory address to an imaginary person or a thing.
Appeals. Rhetorical devices used to enhance the plausibility of one's argument; Aristotle's appeals included ethos, logos, and pathos.
Apposition. The placement two words or phrases side by side with one element serving to define or modify the other.
Arete. Virtue, excellence of character, qualities that would be inherent in a "natural leader," a component of ethos.
Argument. Discourse characterized by reasons advanced to support conclusions.
Belles lettres. Written works considered quality because they are pleasing to the senses.
Belletristic movement. Movement of rhetoric in the late 18th and early 19th centuries emphasizing stylistic considerations of rhetoric. It also expanded rhetoric into a study of literature and literary criticism and writing.
Bomphiologia. Bombastic speech: a rhetorical technique wherein the speaker brags excessively
Burden of proof. Theory of argument giving the obligation of proving a case to the challenging party.
Canon. A term often used to discuss significant literary works in a specific field, used by Cicero to outline five significant parts of the rhetorical composition process.
Captatio benevolentiae. Any literary or oral device which seeks to secure the goodwill of the recipient or hearer, as in a letter or in a discussion.
Catachresis. The inexact use of a similar word in place of the proper one to create an unlikely metaphor. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'The power of man is short'" or "'the long wisdom in the man.'"
Charisma. An attribute that allows a speaker's words to become powerful.
Chiasmus. From the name of the Greek letter "χ", a figure of speech consisting of the contrasting of two structurally parallel syntactic phrases arranged "cross-wise", i.e. in such a way that the second is in reverse order from the first.
Circa rem. Latin: The circumstances surrounding the act in one Roman topical system.
Claim 1. A primary point being made to support an argument. 2. Stephen Toulmin: the resulting conclusion to an argument.
Classicism. A revival in the interest of classical antiquity languages and texts.
Climax. Climax occurs when words or sentences are used to increase weight by mounting degrees in parallel construction.
Colon. A colon (Greek κῶλον) is a rhetorical figure consisting of a clause which is grammatically, but not logically, complete.
Colloquialism. A word or phrase that is not formal or literary, typically one used in ordinary or familiar conversation.
Common topics. Arguments and approaches useful in rhetorical settings; koinoi topoi.
Confirmatio. Latin: The section of a judicial speech (in Roman rhetorical theory) that offers evidence supporting the claims given during the statement of facts.
Confutatio. Latin: Counterargument in Roman rhetorical theory.
Constraints. Referring to "persons, events, objects, and relations which are parts of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence." Originally used by Lloyd Bitzer.
Contingency. In rhetoric, it relates to the contextual circumstances that do not allow an issue to be settled with complete certainty.
Context. The circumstances surrounding an issue that should be considered during its discussion.
Conversio. Latin: Varrying sentence structure to discover its most agreeable form.
Conversation model. The model, in critique of traditional rhetoric by Sally Gearhart, that maintains the goal of rhetoric is to persuade others to accept your own personal view as correct.
Cookery. Plato believed rhetoric was to truth as cookery was to medicine. Cookery disguises itself as medicine and appears to be more pleasing, when in actuality it has no real benefit.
Critical theory. Systematically analyzing any means of communication for hidden assumptions and connotations.
Concession. Acknowledgment of objections to a proposal
Deconstruction. Analyzing communication artifacts by scrutinizing their meaning and related assumptions, with the goal of determining the social and systemic connotations behind their structure.
Deduction. Moving from an overall hypothesis to infer something specific about that hypothesis.
Delectare, To delight; viewed by Cicero as one of the three goals of rhetoric.
Delivery. Canon #5 in Cicero's list of rhetorical canons; traditionally linked to oral rhetoric, refers to how a speech is given (including tone of voice and nonverbal gestures, among others).
Demos. The ordinary citizens of an ancient Greek city-state, considered as a political entity; population; the common people.
Dialectic. A rhetorical term that has been defined differently by Aristotle and Ramus, among others; generally, it means using verbal communication between people to discuss topics in order to come to an agreement about them.
Diallage. Establishing a single point with the use of several arguments.
Dispositio. In the classical theory of the production of speech Pronuntiatiodispositio refers to the stage of planning the structure and sequence of ideas. Often referred to as arrangement, the second of Cicero's five rhetorical canons.
Ellipse. The suppression of ancillary words to render an expression more lively or more forceful.
Elocutio. In the classical theory of the production of a speech (Pronuntiatio), elocution refers to the stage of elaborating the wording of a text, using correct grammar and diction.
Enallage. The switching of grammatical forms for an expressive purpose.
Energia. The latin word for 'energy' that was used by Aristotle in reference to the force or vigor of expression in writing or speech.
Enthymeme. A type of argument that is grounded in assumed commonalities between a rhetor and the audience. (For example: Claim 1: Bob is a person. Therefore, Claim 3: Bob is mortal. The assumption (unstated Claim 2) is that People are mortal). In Aristotelian rhetoric, an enthymeme is known as a "rhetorical syllogism:" it mirrors the form of a syllogism, but it is based on opinion rather than fact (For example: Claim 1: These clothes are tacky. Claim 2: I am wearing these clothes. Claim 3: Therefore, I am unfashionable).
Enumeratio. Making a point more forcibly by listing detailed causes or effects; to enumerate: count off or list one by one.
Epanalepsis. A figure of speech in which the same word or phrase appears both at the beginning and at the end of a clause.
Epanaphora. In rhetoric, repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases for emphasis. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'To you must go the credit for this, to you are thanks due, to you will this act of yours bring glory.'"
Epideictic. Ceremonial rhetoric, such as might be found in a funeral or victory speech.
Epiphora. The repetition of a phrase or word at the end of several sentences or clauses. Also see anaphora.
Epistemology. Philosophical study directed at understanding how people gain knowledge.
Epistrophe. A succession of clauses, phrases or sentences that all end with the same word or group of words.
Epithet. A term used as a descriptive and qualifying substitute for the name of a person, place or thing.
Epizeuxis. Emphasizing an idea using one word repetition.
Eristic. Communicating with the aim of winning the argument regardless of truth. The idea is not necessarily to lie, but to present the communication so cleverly that the audience is persuaded by the power of the presentation.
Erotema. The so-called 'Rhetorical Question', where a question is asked to which an answer is not expected.
Ethos. A rhetorical appeal to an audience based on the speaker/writer's credibility.
Ethopoeia. The act of putting oneself into the character of another to convey that persons feelings and thoughts more vividly.
Euphemism. An innocuous, inoffensive or circumlocutory term or phrase for something unpleasant or obscene. E.g. : in advertising for female hygiene products any liquid shown is never red, it's usually blue.
Evidence. In rhetoric, facts or testimony used to strengthen a claim.
Exemplum. The citation of an example, either truthful or fictitious.
Exigence. A rhetorical call to action; a situation that compels someone to speak out.
Exordium. The introductory (Lat: exordium, beginning) portion of an oration
Expression. applying the correct language to an argument.
Hyperbaton. A figure of speech in which words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect.
Hyperbole. A figure of speech where emphasis is achieved through exaggeration, independently or through comparison. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'His body was as white as snow, his face burned like fire.'"
Hypophora. When a speaker asks aloud what his/her adversaries have to say for themselves or against the speaker, and then proceeds to answer the question. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'When he reminded you of your old friendship, were you moved? No, you killed him nevertheless, and with even greater eagerness. And then when his children grovelled at your feet, were you moved to pity? No, in your extreme cruelty you even prevented their father's burial.'"
Hypothesis. An educated guess; usually a clause claiming "if" something happens, "then" a result will come of it.
Hypsos. Great or worthy writing, sometimes called sublime. Longinus's theme in On the Sublime.
Hypozeuxis. A sentence in which every clause has its own subject and verb.
Hysteron proteron. A rhetorical device in which the first key word of the idea refers to something that happens temporally later than the second key word. The goal is to call attention to the more important idea by placing it first.
Inartistic proofs. Discovered information stemming from the raw data of experience.
Indefinite questions. In Quintlian, questions that are discussed without referring to anything specifically.
Indignatio. To arouse indignation in the audience.
Induction. Rhetorical method for coming to general conclusions through specific examples.
Ingenium. Latin, In Vico- the ability to understand similarities and relationships that is innate in all humans.
In re. Latin, arguments concerned with what actually happened.
Institutio Oratoria . Educational and rhetorical principles as described and prescribed in treatise by Quintillian.
Insultatio. Abusing a person to his/her face by using irony and derisive language.
Interlacement. Combining the figures Antistrophe and Epanaphora for rhetorical style and emphasis. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'Who are they who have often broken treaties? The Carthaginians. Who are they who have waged ware with severest cruelty? The Carthaginians.'"
Intersubjective agreements. agreements on the fair conduct of an argument among individuals participating in dialogue.
Invention. Described by Cicero as the process of determining "valid or seemingly valid arguments;" the first of his five rhetorical canons.
Invitational rhetoric. (Foss and Griffin, 1995) rhetoric involving "an invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in quality, immanent value, and self-determination." Emphasizes the relationship between the speaker and freedoms of the audience to make decisions for themselves in order to promote equality.
Ioci. Jokes, see Cicero's De Oratore and his theory of humor.
Irony. A deliberate contrast between indirect and direct meaning to draw attention to the opposite.
Isocolon. A string of phrases of corresponding structure and equal length.
Issues of definition. Things related to naming an act.
Maxim. "A saying drawn from life, which shows concisely either what happens or ought to happen in life, for example: 'Every beginning is difficult.'" (from Rhetorica ad Herennium)
Memory. Described by Cicero as the "firm mental grasp of matter and words;" the fourth of his five rhetorical canons.
Metanarrative. Universal theories positing to know all aspects of humanity.
Metaphor. A figure of speech where a word that normally applies to one thing is used to designate another for the sake of creating a mental picture. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'...he lightly breathed a favoring breath'".
Metonymy. A figure of speech which substitutes one word or phrase for another with which it is closely associated. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "one should say 'wine' for 'Liber', 'wheat' for 'Ceres'." In UK, people speak of "Crown property" meaning property belonging to the Sovereign. Similarly: "The White House had no comment to make." (= the President's representatives)
Paromoiosis. Parallelism of sound between the words of two clauses approximately equal in size. The similarity of sound can occur at the beginning of the clauses, at the end (where it is equivalent to homoioteleuton), in the middle or throughout the clauses.
Paronomasia. A pun, a play on words, often for humorous effect.
Particular audience. In Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, the actual audience the orator addresses.
Pathos. Greek, the emotional appeal to an audience in an argument. One of Aristotle's three proofs.
Perfectus orator. Latin, a complete orator.
Periphrasis. The substitution of many or several words where one would suffice; usually to avoid using that particular word.
Peroratio. Latin, the last section of a judicial speech where the speaker is the strongest.
Personification. A figure of speech that gives human characteristics to inanimate objects, or represents an absent person as being present. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'But if this invincible city should now give utterance to her voice, would she not speak as follows?'"
Petitio. Latin, in a letter, an announcement, demand, or request.
Phallogocentrism. Examines the relationship between logos (reason) and the phallus (representative of male genitalia). Just as the phallus is implicitly and sometime explicitly assumed to be the only significant sexual organ, the masculine is the accepted as the central point of reference of validity and authority for a society.
Polysyndeton. The repeated use of conjunctions within a sentence, particularly where they do not necessarily have to be used.
Portrayal. Describing a person clearly enough for recognition. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'I mean him, men of the jury, the ruddy, short, bent man, with white and rather curly hair, blue-grey eyes, and a huge scar on his chin, if perhaps you can recall him to memory.'"
Position. The stance taken by a rhetor that s/he is attempting to prove through argumentation.
Quadrivium. The major subjects taught in medieval times: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music.
Quaestiones. Debatable points around which disputes are centered.
Reasoning by contraries. Where the first statement of two opposite statements directly proves the second. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'Or how should you expect a person whose arrogance has been insufferable in private life, to be agreeable and not forget himself when in power...?'"
Rhetorical situation. A term made popular by Lloyd Bitzer; describes the scenario that contains a speech act, including the considerations (purpose, audience, author/speaker, constraints to name a few) that play a role in how the act is produced and perceived by its audience. The counterargument regarding Bitzer's situation-rhetoric relationship was made by Richard E. Vatz in "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation" and “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric” in The Review of Communication, 2009. He argued for a salience-meaning (or now, agenda-framing-spin) model of persuasion, which emphasized rhetoric as a creative act with increased agent or persuader responsibility for the situation his or her rhetoric creates. He maintained this added to the importance of rhetorical study and that Bitzer's formulation was "anti-rhetorical."
Rhetorical theory. The organized presentation of the art or rhetoric, descriptions of the various functions of rhetoric, and clarifications of how rhetoric achieves its goals.
Salience/Agenda; Meaning/Spin. The basic components of all rhetorical struggles, per Richard E Vatz, The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion, (Kendall Hunt, 2013)
Salon. Intellectual assembly in an aristocratic setting; primarily associated with France in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Salutatio. (Latin) A written greeting.
Sannio. (Latin) the fool. The role to avoid when using humor in a speech.
Scesis Onomaton. (Latin) omit the verb. A style of repeating an idea using words or phrases similar in meaning in close proximity.
Scholasticism. Rhetorical study of Christianity that was intellectually prominent in 11th–15th-century Western Europe, emphasizing rhetorical concepts by Aristotle and a search for universal truth.
Scientific method. A system of observing and analyzing data through induction; prominent school of thought since the 17th century whose proponents are often critical of rhetoric.
Sententia. Applying a general truth to a situation by quoting a maxim or other wise saying as a conclusion or summary of that situation.
Shui. Formal persuasion in ancient China.
Sign. Term from semiotics that describes something that has meaning through its connection to something else, like words.
Signifying. Term from semiotics that describes the method through which meaning is created with arbitrary signs.
Simile. A figure of speech that compares unlike things, implying a resemblance between them. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'He entered the combat in body like the strongest bull, in impetuosity like the fiercest lion.'"
Skepticism. Type of thought that questions whether universal truth exists and is attainable by humans.
Solecismus. Ignorantly misusing tenses, cases, and genders.
Sophists. Considered the first professional teachers of oratory and rhetoric (ancient Greece 4th century BC).
Soraismus. The ignorant or affected mingling of languages.
Sprezzatura. The ability to appear that there is seemingly little effort used to attain success. The art of being able to show that one is able to deceive. Baldessare Castiglione.
Spin. In Vatz, the act of competing to infuse meaning into agenda items for chosen audiences.
Starting points. In Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, the place between the speaker and audience where the argument can begin.
Stasis system. System of finding arguments by means of looking at ideas that are contradictory.
Status quo. Latin: The generally accepted existing condition or state of affairs.
Straw man. An argument that is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.
Studia humanitatis. Latin: Humanistic studies deemed indispensable in Renaissance-era education; rhetoric, poetics, ethics, politics.
Syllepsis. A word modifying others in appropriate, though often incongruous ways. This is a similar concept to zeugma.
Syllogism. A type of valid argument that states if the first two claims are true, then the conclusion is true. (For example: Claim 1: People are mortal. Claim 2: Bob is a person. Therefore, Claim 3: Bob is mortal.) Started by Aristotle.
Symbol. A visual or metaphorical representation of an idea or concept.
Symbolic inducement. Term coined by Kenneth Burke to refer to rhetoric.
Sympheron. (Greek) Path that is to one's advantage.
Symploce. A figure of speech in which several successive clauses have the same first and last words.
Synchysis. Word order confusion within a sentence.
Syncope. The omission of letters from the middle of a word, usually replaced by an apostrophe.
Synecdoche. A rhetorical device where one part of an object is used to represent the whole. e.g., "There are fifty head of cattle." (Head is substituting for the whole animal). "Show a leg!" (naval command to get out of bed = show yourself)
Thesis. The major claim or premise made in an argument to be proved or dis-proved.
Thesmos. Greek. The law that comes from the authority of kings.
Tone. The author's voice in an essay through use of figurative language or a style of enunciation in writing (also known as a diction). The way the author expresses himself out loud or through a character.
Topical systems. Methods for finding arguments.
topographia. The description of a place.
topothesia. The description of an imaginary or non-existent place.
Ways and means[disambiguation needed]. One of the five main matters that Aristotle claims political speakers make speeches on. It consists of the speaker's country's revenue and sources, as well as the expenditures of the country.
Zeugma. From the Greek word "ζεύγμα", meaning "yoke". A figure of speech in which one word applies to two others in different senses of that word, and in some cases only logically applies to one of the other two words. This is a similar concept to syllepsis.