Rhetorical lessons

September 25, 2014

According to Chris Ormell (“Hanging on your every word”, Letters, 18 September), one of the major disincentives to students listening and reading with full attention is “a massive daily deluge of rhetoric via the internet and media”.

Ormell uses “rhetoric” as a dirty word, as though there could be a non-rhetorical use of language. A few moments’ full attention to Ormell’s letter, however, reveals that he himself uses a wide range of rhetorical devices and techniques. These include alliteration (“daily deluge”, “perennial problem”); hyperbole (“chronic”, “massive”); isocolon (“listen and read”, “internet and media”); and metaphor (“deluge of rhetoric”, “the cupboard of genuinely new ideas is all but bare”). Also noticeable is his use of high style (“emanating from the cognoscenti”) and emotive vocabulary, both positive (“felicitous”) and negative (“weary”, “rubbished”). Finally, his very first sentence offers a striking example of the A-B-B-A structure of chiasmus: “Getting students to listen/is the perennial problem of teaching,/matched by the problem/of getting them to read.”

Using an appropriately rhetorical question, might I suggest that one solution to the problem of getting students to listen and read attentively would be to revive the teaching of rhetoric?

Neil Foxlee
Visiting lecturer in rhetoric
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts

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