Classical Rhetoric: A Manly Introduction

The Art of Manliness has a well written series of primers on classical rhetoric and the five canons.

Check ’em all out:

Classical Rhetoric 101: An Introduction

Classical Rhetoric 101: A Brief History

covers the sophists, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintillian, Medieval, Renaissance, and the “modern day”

The Five Canons: Invention

includes a brief section on Topoi

The Five Canons: Arrangement

covers narratio, partitio, confirmatio, refutatio, peroratio

The Five Canons: Style

covers the five virtues of style: correctness, clarity, evidence, propriety, ornateness

The Five Canons: Memory

not just about memorizing, but making memorable

The Five Canons: Delivery

master the pause, watch your body language, vary your tone, let gestures flow naturally, match your speed with your emotion, vary the force of your voice, enunciate, look your audience in your eye

With extra rhetoric, please . . .

Rhetoric in the news:

Herman Cain's Rhetoric Pie

Herman Cain's Rhetoric Pie

It’s true (and perhaps to be expected) that rhetoric is implicitly defined here as bombastic sound-bites, caustic charges thick with generalization, delivered with unexamined confidence. Sadly, we’ve gotten used to having rhetoric framed this way (though we certainly should not accept it). What interests me, though, is the use of “extra” that’s further emphasized with the heaping mess of pizza glob and goop. It points us to a quantitative framing of rhetoric instead of a qualitative one. To stick with the metaphor: rhetoric may be perfectly acceptable as a garnish, a topping to be sprinkled judiciously on something substantive, but if the “toppings” are piled too high and wide we’ll get sick.

It’s a remarkably unproductive way to frame rhetoric that should signal to rhetoricians everywhere that our work is cut out for us . . .

“The ‘War on Cars’: A brief history of a rhetorical device

I just found an interesting piece over at grist that charts a genealogy of sorts for the phrase, “War on Cars.”  It a curious expression that’s been used to frame just about any type of regulation of cars, from congestion pricing (in London, for example) to investment in alternative transportation.

Click on image to access article

It doesn’t take much intellectual effort to look around and realize that our urban infrastructures are hardly waging a war on cars.  But the factual absurdity of the phrase doesn’t mean it isn’t rhetorically powerful; maneuvering into a position of victimhood and defensiveness is often an effective move.

Present Tense: Issue #2

Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society has released its second issue.  (Thanks goes to David Beard over at The Blogora for the tip.)  Of special note is the piece, “Methodological Dwellings: A Search for Feminisms in Rhetoric & Composition,” which features a performance by OSU’s very own Nan Johnson:

Methodological Dwellings: A Search for Feminisms in Rhetoric & Composition

"Methodological Dwellings: A Search for Feminisms in Rhetoric & Composition"

On a more personal note (or at least professionally-selfish), I’d like to offer thanks to Gae Lyn Henderson, Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University, for her review of the recently published Activism and Rhetoric, a simply stellar collection of essays curated by Seth Kahn and JongHwa Lee.  I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue this volume over the past few weeks and am energized by what Kahn, Lee, and the various contributors have accomplished.

For those also interested in affective/non-rational elements of rhetoric, check out Nathaniel Rivers’s, “In Defense of Gut Feelings: Rhetorics of Decision-Making,” which is an insightful and deftly managed piece on a notoriously difficult topic.  (And if any of you Harlot readers out there will be joining me at this summer’s “Non-rational Rhetorics” workshop led by Diane Davis and Debra Hawhee, be sure to head over to the latest issue of Philosophy and Rhetoric, which has fresh essays by both.)

Thanks to all in the rhetoric community who keep exploring new realms of rhetoric with their research —


Simplifying. Reducing. Healthifying.

More evidence from the food front that macro-shifts in consumer choices/awareness are persuading companies to reconsider their products–and the future of food:

This summary comes from a recent Chicago Tribune article outlining the manifold effects the food movement has had on behemoth corporations.  Major players like Wal-Mart (largest food purchaser in the country), Kraft, and PepsiCo are scrambling to figure out how to twist fundamentally unhealthy products into “healthier options.”

To be more accurate, though, I should say that this is an effort to further twist fundamentally unhealthy products into something they can’t be.  We’ve been seeing great changes over the past several years: “Made with Whole Grain” now adorns cereal boxes from the top shelves (“adult” cereals) to the bottom (where the kiddies look); RbGH-milk is in significant decline; and “low-sodium” banners are proliferating across labels.  While the food is being tweaked, the accompanying advertisements are being amplified to a much greater extent.  “Change it a little and promote the hell out of it” has long been an approach of the food industry.  But of course, “just because a processed food is a little bit less bad than it used to be,” as the always-enjoyable Marion Nestle words it,  [it] doesn’t necessarily make it a good choice.”

Hobbyist rhetoricians might take pleasure in tracking a few threads in the food arena:

1) The obvious: changes in a food labeling.  Make it a game with your family and friends!  Award points based on a ratio between how brazenly stupid a phrase/picture is and its potential persuasiveness.  So for instance, “Picked Fresh!” would receive 20pts, while “Naturally Cut” could get up to 40pts, depending on the product.  When you find produce being declared “Cholesterol Free” then you’ve hit the jackpot!  Give yourself 100pts!  If you spot “Locally Known” then you’ve won the game: 1,000pts. (Points may be redeemed for candy-bars and/or plastic trinkets.)

500 points!

2) The less obvious: changes in food placement.  The layout of a supermarket is rhetorically designed, with staples such as dairy, bread, and meat often occupying the back corners.  Walk the periphery of a store and you’ll most likely find all the good stuff you need.  Walk through any of the numerous aisles in between and you’ll be confronted with staggering variations of corn and soy.  Chips and soda are located in the same aisle: while supermarkets very rarely make a profit off of soda, the percentage markup on chips easily makes up for it.  They know the salty goes with the sweet.

Though supermarket(er)s have known the appeal of placement for some time, the technics of it are going through a period of increased research scrutiny, with psychologists getting in on the game.  Thankfully, proponents and marketers of healthy foods are discovering that savvy rhetorical strategies are just as applicable to their product as those that push junk.  NPR recently reported that grocery stores are shining a new light on healthy foods–quite literally:

NPR: "Nudging Grocery Shoppers Toward Healthy Food"

Take product placement and soft, focused lighting, for example. Items that are highlighted in this way — even if they aren’t on sale — sell about 30 percent more, Wansink [author of Mindless Eating] says. They just look more appealing than products under harsh, overhead fluorescent lights.

One area where the rhetoric of food placement is getting a lot of attention is in the cafeteria.  I highly recommend you check out this interactive piece published by the New York Times that outlines how the lunch line is being redesigned to highlight healthier foods.  In one research report, the simple act of putting fruit in an attractive fruit bowl rather than the usual stainless steel bowl more than doubled the amount of fruit sales.  Putting the chocolate milk behind the regular milk (instead of beside) greatly reduced its selection.

Keep your eye out for how stores are shifting food placement to affect choice, regardless of whether it’s for the good or bad.

3) Time traveling through analogy: Big Food as Big Tabacco.  I’m beginning to see a lot more parallels being made between where Big Food is at right now with where Big Tabacco was at in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in the ramp up to the Master Settlement Agreement.  Tabacco companies got sued in an effort to recoup health care costs dumped on states.  We could see the exact same discussion about food taking place over the next few years, as more evidence arises that links our cheap food with high health care costs.  And just as Tabacco sought frantically for many years to discredit information that linked it to cancer, the Producers of Processed will work to undermine similar science that does little else than simply confirm common sense.  In the meantime, we can enjoy a variety of mind-spinning industrial concoctions that purport to have our best interests in mind; “lite-sugar” products are the equivalent of ultra-lite cigarettes.

I’ll be interested to hear from any rhetoricians out there where they’re seeing these elements and how they’re being leveraged.  Send word to Harlot in a savvy article and we’ll work to get it published, yo.


When he buys an item of food, consumes it, or serves it, modern man does not manipulate a simple object in a purely transitive fashion; this item of food sums up and transmits a situation; it constitutes an information; it signifies.

~ Roland Barthes


More on the Problematic Hipstamatic

For those who haven’t yet read Mary Lord’s thought-provoking piece on nostalgia and photography in our current issue, I encourage you to check it out now.  The questions it raises are becoming increasingly relevant as the iPhone becomes more prevalent (especially in the wake of shifting to Verizon) and app-culture continues to burgeon.

But the import of these questions is elevated, it seems, when the hipstamatic application is used in the realm of photo-journalism.  Damon Winter of The New York Times was recently awarded a third place commendation from Pictures of the Year International for a series of shots published alongside an article on the mundane aspects of war.  The conversation that followed wasn’t about what the images depicted, but the medium with which they were taken.  Many cried foul.  Some suggested that such a drift toward mobile apps was inevitable.  Few welcomed it wholeheartedly.

Winter has weighed in on the matter; his full-length statement can be read here.  Some of his comments are rather interesting, especially when considered in light on Lord’s “Imag{in}ing Nostalgia” and the rhetorical dynamics of photo-journalism in general:

The problem people have with an app, I believe, is that a computer program is imposing the parameters, not the photographer.  But I don’t see how this is so terribly different from choosing a camera (like a Holga) or a film type or a processing method that has a unique but consistent and predictable outcome or cross-processing or using a color balance not intended for the lighting conditions (tungsten in daylight or daylight in fluorescent, using the cloudy setting to warm up a scene).

People may have the impression that it is easy to make interesting images with a camera app like this, but it is not the case. At the heart of every solid image are the same fundamentals: composition, information, moment, emotion, connection.  If people think that this is a magic tool, they are wrong.

Each photographer uses a technique or tool that helps him or her to best tell the stories and all of their work has been acknowledged and celebrated.  None of these techniques are grounded on the idea of visual accuracy but they are effectively used to tell stories, convey ideas and to enlighten, which is the real heart of our work.

Hope, Change and… Salmon?!

A neo-Aristotelian analysis of Obama’s State of the Union speech might focus on how he builds credibility after a mid-term election gave significant traction to a Republican agenda.  A Lakoffian critique would look at which dominant metaphors work to shape the framing of other issues, like how “the race to educate our kids,” “this is our sputnik moment,” and the theme of “winning the future” all contribute to a framework of competition.  A Burkean cluster approach would organize key terms around frequency and intensity and extract an analysis from there.

Here’s what that would look like with regards to frequency:

But what about intensity?  NPR did some reader-response analysis, asking over 4,000 people to describe the speech in 3 words.  Here are the surprising results:

Um, I for one did not see that coming.  Granted, there are very few jokes made in State of the Union speeches, so one could argue that those that do make it in are bound to stand out.  But nevertheless, I find this surprising.

What can we glean from this data about the impact of Obama’s speech?  What can we suggest about the role of sarcasm in this situation?  What rhetorical methods do we have which can account for this anomaly?

To make matters perhaps even more interesting, here is the same data broken down into party-affiliations:



I’ll be curious to hear some of your responses to this data.


** I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Obama missed an opportunity to point out the plight of salmon.  All five species of Pacific salmon are endangered: Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye.  It was not long ago at all that this now-endangered species thrived.  From Derrick Jensen, a staunch defender of salmon and all wild life:

Painting by Rob Shetterly

At one time the Columbia River Basin was home to the greatest runs of salmon on earth. In 1839 Elkanah Walker wrote in his diary, “It is astonishing the number of salmon which ascend the Columbia yearly and the quantity taken by the Indians. . . .” He continued, “It is an interesting sight to see them pass a rapid. The number was so great that there were hundreds constantly out of the water.” In 1930, Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Press wrote, “Millions of chinook salmon today lashed into whiteness the waters of northwest streams as they battled thru the rapids. . . .” The article went on to say that “the scene is the same in every northwest river.” Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review noted that at Kettle Falls, “the silver horde was attacking the falls at a rate of from 400 to 600 an hour.”

Now the salmon are gone. To serve commerce our culture dammed the rivers of the Columbia River Basin. People at the time–beginning in the 1930s–knew dams would destroy salmon. Local groups and individuals–including those who knew salmon most intimately, the Indians–fought against the federal government and the river industries, but dams were built and now the fight is becoming even more desperate, as nine out of ten major salmon species in the Northwest and California are extinct or on the verge.