“Rhetoric” becomes “rhetoric” in politics

This is a completely bipartisan lament.  When did the word “rhetoric” become synonymous with “empty speech”?

Demosthenes PracticingPerhaps it’s as old a smear as the attacks by Athenian philosophers on the Rhetoricians of their day.  I’d contend that Rhetoric (with an R) is a noble art, but the term can hardly be used anymore.

By the way,  both President-Elect Obama and Senator McCain made very powerful speeches on election night. McCain was noble and magnanimous, and he used a rhetoric of inclusion that nicely matched Obama’s approach a little while later.

One thought on ““Rhetoric” becomes “rhetoric” in politics”

  1. Definition 2 in the OED traces the deprecatory sense of ‘rhetoric’ to 1386 in Chaucer’s “Clerk’s Prologue” but I’m sure it dates back further than that. As for this election, I was surprised that some of the rhetoric was geared towards evoking a suspicion against articulate speech. We might trace this back all the way to Thomas Morton’s confrontation with the Puritans at Merry Mount and their disdain for university education. Hawthorne wrote an excellent story based on the history: “The Maypole of Merry Mount”

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