William A. Covino
Rhetoric stretches back to the days of Aristotle and Cicero and its definitions may be as numerous as the years it encompasses. The term rhetoric has been assigned to persuasiveness, to the energy behind communication, to scheming propaganda, to the frills and fuss added to text and speech, and to just plain and simple text. Others have said that rhetoric is “everything.” What to do with such a broad topic?
No matter what the definition, it is important to look at what rhetoric does. It always persuades, whether that is through visual means with pictures and colors, though an oral speech or through a written text. It persuades (or fails to) no matter how it is presented, with flourishes or without. And when we understand how to use rhetoric, we can also begin to understand how rhetoric uses us, how it affects and persuades us.
We can look at all of its various definitions and consider how they play in to how we teach. We can show students how to consider the rhetorical triangle, made up of the speaker, the audience and the reason for the speech. These three can also be termed ethos, pathos, and logos. Or we can ask them to focus on Act, Agent, Scene, Agency and Purpose. There are any number of other ways as well, but they all lead up to the same conclusion – what the elements are that come together to create something of persuasion.