Let's Hear It for Rhetoric!

By Smith, Wen | The Saturday Evening Post, May 1995 | Go to article overview

Let's Hear It for Rhetoric!


Smith, Wen, The Saturday Evening Post


My wife shook me from a fitful slumber. The TV set was still on.

"It's midnight," she said, "and you're mumbling."

"I don't mumble," I said. "I was talking with Aristotle."

"In Greek?" she said.

"I think so. He understood perfectly."

"Better turn that thing off and go to bed," she said. "You wouldn't recognize Aristotle if you were face to face."

"It was Aristotle, all right," I said. "He was wearing a toga."

"Romans wore togas, not Greeks," she said.

"Look," I said, "was this your dream or mine?"

"What were you talking to Aristotle about?"

"Rhetoric," I said.

"You heard that on C-SPAN," she said. "You started snoring while the House was on 'Special Orders.'"

I remembered two clowns in Washington slinging words around like Frisbees. They said the new majority's "Contract with America" was "mere rhetoric."

"Just then Aristotle came in. He said, 'Gentlemen, you're giving rhetoric a bad rap.'"

"Aristotle used the word 'rap'?" my wife said.

"That's what he meant," I said. "And I whispered, 'You tell 'em, Ari! You defined rhetoric as an art, the craft of the orator.' And he said, 'Yes, the best words in the best order.'"

"That was Coleridge," my wife said. "And it's not what people mean by 'mere rhetoric.'"

"Aha!" I said in Greek. "In Washington, rhetoric is not the craft of using language. It's the use of crafty language."

"I suppose Aristotle agreed," my wife said.

"He said I bad put it very rhetorically."

I got up from my recliner.

"Going to bed? It's about time."

"No," I said, "I'm going to the word shop to prove what rhetoric does for ideas."

"How can you do that?" she said.

"A snap," I said. "I'll take some famous lines and shake the rhetoric out of them and see what's left. …

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