Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion

Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion

Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion

Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion


A comprehensive guide to the language of argument, Rhetorical Style offers a renewed appreciation of the persuasive power of the English language. Drawing on key texts from the rhetorical tradition, as well as on newer approaches from linguistics and literary stylistics, Fahnestock demonstrates how word choice, sentence form, and passage construction can combine to create effective spoken and written arguments. With examples from political speeches, non-fiction works, and newspaper reports, Rhetorical Style surveys the arguer's options at the word, sentence, interactive, and passage levels, and illustrates the enduring usefulness of rhetorical stylistics in analyzing and constructing arguments.


With hatred/malice/antipathy toward none, with
love/charity/compassion for all, with strength/
in the right as God/the Lord/the Deity
gives us to see/perceive/discriminate the right, let us
strive on to end/finish/complete the work we are in, to
bind up/dress/cauterize the nation’s wounds/injuries/
, to care for him who shall have borne/
the battle and for his widow and
his child/orphan/progeny, to do all which may earn/
and cherish afair/just/impartial and
lasting/enduring/sustainable peace among ourselves
and with all lands/nations/territories.

Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865

THIS “UNWRITING” OF the famous conclusion to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address offers two alternatives along with Lincoln’s original word choice. Each option comes from one of the three major layers of English vocabulary:—the Anglo-Saxon core, the French additions initiated by the Normans, and the direct borrowings from Latin or Greek. Lincoln had even more choices than those listed, and indeed almost every word in his speech, beyond the articles, pronouns, and prepositions, could have been replaced by other more or less synonymous words and phrases. Those familiar with the original no doubt will judge that Lincoln’s choices were unerringly the best possible. As it turns out, he chose predominantly from the Anglo-Saxon or Old English core and frequently from the slightly more formal French layer (malice, charity, firmness, finish, orphan, achieve, nations). But he avoided words borrowed directly from Latin or Greek (Cmiel 1990, 116–18).

The Historical Layers of English

Every contemporary speaker and writer of English constantly makes such choices among synonyms, whether consciously or not. The sheer number of alternatives available illustrates one special feature of the English language: the size of its lexicon. On the basis of entries in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), David Crystal estimates that English users can access half a million words and perhaps another half million technical words (1988, 37; for larger claims, see Crystal 2004, 119). The size of this potential vocabulary . . .

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