Taking AP English Language? This is a list of rhetorical terms that you should know for the exam. These terms will mostly show up on the multiple-choice section, so it’s important to be able to identify them in a work of writing, but you won’t actually have to use the device in your own writing.
In your essays, you will need to identify which devices are used and their effect on the work as a whole. Sometimes, a writer will use a device (for example: alliteration), but it doesn’t have a huge effect on the work or the writer’s argument. In that case, don't spend an entire paragraph talking about alliteration. You need to focus on what matters most, and you need to specifically show how these choices make the work effective, and why they are so important. Yes, the rhetorical analysis essay is an argument essay just like the other two.
You aren't required to use rhetorical vocabulary in your essays at all — in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. If you force the vocabulary into your essay, you risk sounding clunky, and the vocabulary almost always leads you to switch to passive voice. Instead, just describe what is happening! (ex: The author uses imagery → The author’s vivid images). This method also ensures that you are showing how the device is contributing to the work, rather than simply identifying it.
Find the 2020 exam schedule, learn tips & tricks, and get your frequently asked questions answered on Fiveable's Guide to the 2020 AP Exam Updates.
And, without further ado… Here are some words you should know for the AP Lang exam:
references to artistic elements or expressions within a textual work
Example: “The Flapper” by Dorothy Parker (1922)
The Playful flapper here we see,
The fairest of the fair.
She's not what Grandma used to be, —
You might say, au contraire.Her girlish ways may make a stir,
Her manners cause a scene,
But there is no more harm in her
Than in a submarine.
She nightly knocks for many a goal
The usual dancing men.
Her speed is great, but her control
Is something else again.
All spotlights focus on her pranks.
All tongues her prowess herald.
For which she well may render thanks
To God and Scott Fitzgerald.
Her golden rule is plain enough —
Just get them young and treat them
Analysis: Parker describes the aesthetic of flapper culture in her poem in order to support women who defied social norms and who adopted more liberal attitudes towards makeup, drinking, smoking, and sex.
Note: aesthetic is not necessarily a specific device; it is the bigger picture. An author would use a rhetorical device (e.g. imagery, allusions, etc.) to achieve a certain aesthetic.
the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence
Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
All that year the animals worked like slaves. But they were happy in their work; they grudged no effort or sacrifice, well aware that everything they did was for the benefit of themselves and those of their kind who would come after them, and not for a pack of idle, thieving human beings.
Analysis: In George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm, overworked farm animals rise up against their owner and subscribe to the concepts of Animalism, which proclaims that “all men are enemies” and “all animals are comrades.” The animals, who now work “like slaves” for the “benefit of themselves and those of that their kind,” run a society that mirrors that of the Russian Revolution. Orwell’s use of animals to describe contemporary political events creates distance between his novel and his potentially incendiary critique of the rise of Communism, which makes the topic more approachable.
the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of successive words
Example: Ronald Reagan’s Address at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (1988)
Our liberties, our values — all for which America stands — is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front. And we thank God for them.
Analysis: Reagan acknowledges that the veterans of the Vietnam War were prepared to “face the fire at freedom’s front.” Through his use of alliteration, Reagan emphasizes the soldiers’ willingness to sacrifice themselves for freedom, focusing the audience’s attention on the value of the veterans’ deeds.
a reference, explicit or implicit, to something in previous literature or history
Example: “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
Analysis: King begins his speech with both an indirect and direct allusion to Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” The first phrase of King’s speech, “Five score years ago,” directly mirrors Lincoln’s historic speech, which opens with “four score and seven years ago.” By associating himself with a prominent figure in the fight against injustice, King implies that he shares Lincoln’s values and establishes a sympathetic relationship with his audience.
a word, phrase, or sentence whose meaning can be interpreted in more than one way
Example: The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her.
"Good-by— because I love you." He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him — but it was too late; the shore was far behind her. And her strength was gone.
Analysis: At the end of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Edna lends herself to the tide with the vague last words, “good-by— because I love you,” leaving Victor to question whether her death was intentional. Chopin’s use of ambiguity to depict Enda’s death illustrates Victor’s lack of closure and his feeling of utter helplessness and confusion as he watches his loved one, both physically and metaphorically, swept away by the current.
an extended comparison between two things/instances/people etc. that share some similarity to make a point
Example: “What True Education Should Do” by Sydney J. Harris (1994)
Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. The job of teaching is not to stuff them and then seal them up, but to help them open and reveal the riches within. There are pearls in each of us, if only we knew how to cultivate them with ardor and persistence.
Analysis: Harris compares students to oysters whom we should help “open and reveal the riches within.” Through her analogy, Harris establishes a basis on which readers can shift their perspective. Rather than simply listing specific traits of students, Harris helps her readers change their perception of how students should be treated, and gives readers a concrete and memorable lense through which readers should view the classroom.
repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines
Example: “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
Analysis: King repeats the phrase, “I have a dream” to emphasize his vision for racial equality in the United States. By employing anaphora to underscore his beliefs, King connects his ideas with a common motif, helping his audience follow his speech and make it more memorable. King thus invites his audience to share in his “dream,” as he reminds them that it is their dreams for a more equal future that unite their movement.
a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident
Example: “Gender Equality is Your Issue Too” by Emma Watson (2014)
I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not. When at 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press. When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.” When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me.
Analysis: By sharing a short anecdote about being “sexualized” and called “bossy,” while acknowledging her male friends being “unable to express their feelings,” Watson establishes her authority to speak on gender-related issues, and she appeals to her audience’s sense of emotion and empathy as she aims to establish a common experience between both men and women in the United Nations.
the rhetorical contrast of ideas by means of parallel arrangements of words, clauses, or sentences
Example: Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (1969)
“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”
Analysis: Armstrong’s antithesis serves to highlight the monumental impact that the moon landing will have on the human race. By contrasting his “small step” with the “giant” effect that this step will have, he emphasizes its significance.
the repetition of vowel sounds but not consonant sounds
Example: The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
She got sicker an sicker.
Finally, she ast Where it is?
I say God took it.
He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can.
Analysis: In her second letter to God, Celie describes her mother getting “sicker an sicker” and the way God “kilt” her first child in the woods. The repetition of the “i” sound creates a staccato and rhythmic quality to the letter while still creating a thin, ill-sounding intonation.
Note: assonance is often associated with euphony: soothing and pleasant sounds.
conjunctions are omitted, producing a fast-paced and rapid prose
Example: “Duty, Honor, Country” by General Douglas MacArthur (1962)
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Analysis: In his speech, MacArthur rallies the United States army with three simple words: “duty, honor, country.” MacArthur’s asyndeton creates a powerful and concise phrase that galvanizes his men through its simplicity. Because the conjunctions have been omitted, MacArthur’s phrase reads like a chant in which each word is emphasized equally. This rhythmic phrase is thus very easy to remember and to repeat, which allows MacArthur to invigorate and prepare his army.
repetition of ideas in inverted order
Example: John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (1971)
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
Analysis: In his 1971 Inaugural Address, Kennedy encourages his audience to have faith in their generation and in their country in the midst of a trying Cold War. Kennedy attempts to unite the audience under a national identity and purpose, inviting them to consider not what their “country can do for” them, but what they “can do for” their country. By employing chiasmus, Kennedy highlights the difference between an archaic mentality and the attitude that he wants the country to adopt moving forward. Because Kennedy repeats the same simple ideas, he also creates a memorable phrase that allows his message to spread easily among the American people.
characteristic of spoken or written communication that seeks to imitate informal speech
Example: Barack Obama’s message about political ‘wokeness’ (2019)
This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff; you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities.
Analysis: In his commentary regarding the call-out culture on the current socio-political stage, Obama uses the term “woke” to describe those who believe they are more aware of social injustices. By adopting a colloquial expression, Obama molds his message to resonate with young Americans. Obama is thus able to connect with his audience by mimicking their language.
the set of associations implied by a word in addition to its literal meaning
Example: “Black Men in Public Space” by Brent Staples (1986)
My first victim was a white woman, well dressed, probably in her early twenties. I came upon her late one evening on a deserted street in Hyde Park, a relatively affluent neighborhood in an otherwise mean, impoverished section of Chicago. As I swung onto the avenue behind her, there seemed to be a discreet, noninflammatory distance between us. Not so. She cast back a worried glance. To her, the youngish black man – a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket – seemed menacingly close.
Analysis: In his essay “Black Men in Public Space,” Brent Staples refers to the woman who runs away from him as his “victim” to whom he is “menacingly close,” which connotes violence and criminal activity. However, the actions that ensue do not match such connotations; rather than attacking the woman, Staples simply walks down the avenue. By breaking the audience’s expectations, Staples highlights the misleading dialogue surrounding African-American men and forces his readers to confront their own racial biases.
Note: connotation and tone are very closely related. Often, an author will use words that carry certain connotations to establish a tone. You can use this idea in your essays to demonstrate tone by citing the connotative words the author uses to establish such a tone.
the repetition of consonant sounds, but not vowels, as in assonance
Example: “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Caroll (1871)
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Analysis: In Lewis Carol’s poem “Jabberwocky,” he warns against the Jabberwock’s “jaws” and the “Jubjub bird,” repeating the “j” sound. Carol uses consonance to create dissonant and almost disorienting sounds through harsh, hard tones, which emphasize the obnoxious nature of the Jabberwocky. Because of the abundance of consonants, the poem reads similar to a tongue-twister, which further serves to disorient the reader and make them feel as if they are in a completely different world.
Note: consonance can be associated with cacophony, or harsh, discordant sounds, if it uses “explosive consonants” such as B, C, CH, D, G, J, K, P, Q, T, X.
reasoning that works from the more general to the more specific, beginning with a theory that becomes a hypothesis, and using observations to confirm the original theory (top-down approach)
Example: Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to British Viceroy Lord Irwin (1930)
If I have equal love for your people with mine, it will not long remain hidden. It will be acknowledged by them, even as the members of my family acknowledged after they had tried me for several years. If the people join me, as I expect they will, the sufferings they will undergo, unless the British nation sooner retraces its steps, will be enough to melt the stoniest hearts. The plan through civil disobedience will be to combat such evils as I have sampled out. If we want to sever the British connection it is because of such evils. When they are removed, the path becomes easy. Then the way to friendly negotiation will be open. If the British commerce with India is purified of greed, you will have no difficulty in recognizing our independence.
Analysis: In his letter to Lord Irwin, Gandhi uses a series of if-then statements to defend India’s call for independence through civil disobedience. Gandhi begins by establishing his “equal love” for the British people and mentioning that if they join him in his protests, it will “melt the stoniest of hearts” in the British government, forcing the British to “retrace their steps” and remove the “evils” in the current British regime. If the evils are removed, Gandhi promises, the “way to friendly negotiation will be open.” By articulating his position with deductive reasoning, Gandhi appeals to Lord Irwin’s logic and maintains that the Indian people are not acting irrationally. Gandhi provides Lord Irwin with only one logical option: purify the British commerce system of greed and open the table to negotiate with India.
the literal meaning of a word, the dictionary definition
Example: “Gender Equality is Your Issue Too” by Emma Watson (2014)
I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.
For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
Analysis: By explicitly defining feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” Watson juxtaposes the denotation of feminism with the connotations with which it is associated. Watson directly confronts the misconceptions regarding feminism to quell any opposition regarding such misconceptions, and she appeals to a credible source — the dictionary — to support her claims and establish her own authority over the matter.
Note: denotation is almost always used in contrast with connotation. Authors will often define a word to clarify its meaning, which suggests that the connotations of the term do not match how the author wants the audience to view that term.
a writer's choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which combine to help create meaning
Example: “On Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner (1992)
Canned goods are among the safest foods to be found in Dumpsters but are not utterly foolproof. Although very rare with modern canning methods, botulism is a possibility. Most other forms of food poisoning seldom do lasting harm to a healthy person, but botulism is almost certainly fatal and often the first symptom is death. Except for carbonated beverages, all canned goods should contain a slight vacuum and suck air when first punctured. Bulging, rusty, and dented cans and cans that spew when punctured should be avoided, especially when the contents are not very
acidic or syrupy.
Analysis: Eighner employs empirical diction to describe the process of dumpster diving, which is generally considered a dishonorable and crude practice. Eighner details the “fatal” effects of “botulism,” and provides a practical assessment of “modern canning methods,” instructing readers to avoid “bulging, rusty, and dented cans” and to look for a “slight vacuum” in canned goods. By analyzing the process of dumpster diving through a scientific lens, Eighner emphasizes that those who dumpster dive are not inferior to their store going counterparts, and he suggests that dumpster diving can be a practical hobby for anyone, even if it is not done out of necessity.
tone; instructional, designed to teach an ethical, moral, or religious lesson
Example: “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)
First, then. I will say to you my young friends — and I say it beseechingly, urgently — Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.
Analysis: In his satire “Advice to Youth,” Twain adopts a didactic tone that mimics that of many parents chastising their children. He instructs youth to “always obey [their] parents” because “most parents think they know better than” their children. By using a familiar instructional tone while mocking parental attitude, Twain appeals to his credibility by establishing that he too has faced criticism from his parents. By recognizing a common experience, Twain builds a rapport with his young audience, making them more receptive to his message.
Note: Generally, essays with a very didactic tone are ineffective, so they don’t have much rhetorical merit. Twain’s speech is instead a satire of the didactic tone many parents adopt, which allows him to connect with his audience in their mutual scorn for some parents’ sanctimonious attitude.
a tone involving mourning or expressing sorrow for that which is irrecoverably past
Example: Ronald Reagan’s address following the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle (1986)
Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss. For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much.
Analysis: At the beginning of his address, Reagan adopts an elegiac tone, declaring that “today is a day for mourning and remembering.” He describes the deaths of the astronauts as a “national loss” that pains “all of the people” in the United States. By taking the time to recognize the tragic loss of the astronauts and by empathizing with the American people’s shock at the explosion, Reagan appeals to his audience’s grief and establishes an emotional connection with them before he begins speaking about the future of the United States space exploration program.
ending a series of lines, phrases, clauses, or sentences with the same word or words
Example: Madelynn Albright’s commencement speech for Mount Holyoke College (1997)
As you go along your own road in life, you will, if you aim high enough, also meet resistance, for as Robert Kennedy once said, “if there’s nobody in your way, it’s because you’re not going anywhere.” But no matter how tough the opposition may seem, have courage still—and persevere.
There is no doubt, if you aim high enough, that you will be confronted by those who say that your efforts to change the world or improve the lot of those around you do not mean much in the grand scheme of things. But no matter how impotent you may sometimes feel, have courage still — and persevere.
It is certain, if you aim high enough, that you will find your strongest beliefs ridiculed and challenged; principles that you cherish may be derisively dismissed by those claiming to be more practical or realistic than you. But no matter how weary you may become in persuading others to see the value in what you value, have courage still—and persevere.
Inevitably, if you aim high enough, you will be buffeted by demands of family, friends, and employment that will conspire to distract you from your course. But no matter how difficult it may be to meet the commitments you have made, have courage still—and persevere.
Analysis: In her commencement speech, Albright encourages women to stand firm and to “aim high,” despite the prevalence of gender inequality. Albright recognizes that women face opposition and glass ceilings, but she urges them to “have courage still— and persevere,” repeating the phrase after each challenge she discusses. Like her attitude towards success, Albright’s speech always returns to the idea that women must “have courage still — and persevere,” regardless of the obstacles presented to her. Albright’s motto to “have courage still—and persevere” is the most prominent part of her speech, and remains consistent even when the rest of her speech shifts, which mirrors the outlook that Albright endorses.
appealing to credibility
Example: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.
Analysis: King mentions that he is the “president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” that operates in “every southern state” and has “eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South.” He also emphasizes that he is in Birmingham because he was “invited” due to “organizational ties.” King spends a significant amount of time describing his credentials and his affiliation with the Church, which not only creates a common experience among the clergymen and himself but also establishes King as a respectable man with significant accomplishments. Because many white southerners believed that African Americans were inferior to themselves, King takes the time to appeal to his own credibility and authority in hopes that the clergymen will view him as their equal and will respect his message.
Note: please don’t write “appeals to ethos/pathos/logos.” Instead, try “appeals to credibility/emotion/logic,” or go further to describe specifically which emotion or credentials the author appeals to.
differs from a regular metaphor in that several comparisons similar in theme are being made
Example: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr (2008)
Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose.
Analysis: Carr employs an extended metaphor to liken his brain to a machine, suggesting that something “has been tinkering” with his brain, “remapping” and “reprogramming” his “neural circuitry.” By comparing his brain to a machine, Carr conveys his feeling that he is a slave to his computer and his sense of disconnectedness from his brain. Rather than being in harmony with his mind, he describes his brain as a separate entity. Carr’s metaphor also highlights the increasing influence of technology in modern life — so much so that our brains themselves have become computers.
descriptive language that provides vivid images that evoke the senses
Example: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (2008)
In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us. We held our little plastic cars against the glass and pretended that they, too, were racing toward some unknown destination. We considered the past and dreamed of the future, and watched it all go by in the blink of an eye.
Analysis: Louv recounts his experience staring out of the car window as a child with vivid imagery, describing watching “telephone poles tick by,” “birds on the wires,” “cows and horses and coyotes,” and “shaving-cream signs.” Louv jots seemingly disconnected images in short snippets, mimicking a car whizzing past an ever-changing landscape. The sharp images appeal to the reader’s sense of nostalgia as Louv allows them to witness their own youth “go by in the blink of an eye.”
reasoning that moves from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories; uses observations to detect patterns and regularities, and develops a hypothesis and later broader theories based on these observations (bottom-up approach)
Example: “On Being a Cripple” by Nancy Mairs (1986)
"Cripple" seems to me a clean word, straightforward and precise. As a lover of words, I like the accuracy with which it describes my condition: I have lost the full use of my limbs. "Disabled," by contrast, suggests any incapacity, physical or mental. And I certainly don't like "handicapped," which implies that I have deliberately been put at a disadvantage, by whom I can't imagine (my God is not a Handicapper General), in order to equalize chances in the great race of life. These words seem to me to be moving away from my condition, to be widening the gap between word and reality. Most remote is the recently coined euphemism "differently-abled," which partakes of the same semantic hopefulness that transformed countries from "undeveloped" to "underdeveloped," then to "less developed," and finally to "developing" nations. People have continued to starve in those countries during the shift. Some realities do not obey the dictates of language.
Analysis: Mairs begins by outlining her views on the word “cripple,” which “describes [her] condition” in a “straightforward and precise manner,” unlike vague terms such as “handicapped” and “differently-abled,” which widen “the gap between word and reality.” Much like “people have continued to starve” in underdeveloped nations despite the shift in nomenclature, Mairs scorns the “semantic hopefulness” that has led people to use less precise words to describe her condition, even though the disability itself cannot change. Mairs uses inductive reasoning to conclude that “some realities do not obey the dictates of language” as she appeals to readers’ logic to deduce that using euphemisms to describe unfavorable circumstances is irrational and only serves to dilute the rectitude of precise language.
stating the opposite of what is said or meant
Example: “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)
I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.
Analysis: Twain instructs youth to “treasure” his instructions and to construct their “character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon” the precepts they have read. However, Twain mentions that if they do so, they will be “surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.” Twain’s irony warns youth that if they simply obey their parents, they will not become a unique individual, and the unexpected ending to his satire reinforces his position that one should not mold themselves to meet societal norms.
placing two or more things side by side for comparison or contrast
Example: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
Along the roads, laurel, viburnum, and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s eye through much of the year. Even in winter, the roadsides were places of beauty, where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow. The countryside was, in fact, famous for the abundance and variety of its birdlife, and when the flood of migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveled from great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the days many years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns.
Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.
Analysis: In her novel Silent Spring, Rachel Carson describes the beautiful American town with the cold, vapid town that it is destined to become due to climate change. She juxtaposes the town’s “great ferns and wildflowers,” “birdlife,” and “clear and cold” streams with the “strange blight” that cast an “evil spell” on the community and the animals who have “sickened and died” from “mysterious maladies.” By creating such a sharp contrast between the present and the future, Carson coveys the magnitude of the climate crisis and emphasizes the urgency with which we must address it. Carson’s starkly contrasting images aim to evoke a strong emotional response in the reader that appeals to their sense of responsibility and citizenship.
appealing to logic
Example: Greta Thunberg’s speech at the National Assembly in Paris (2019)
A lot of people, a lot of politicians, business leaders, journalists say they don't agree with what we are saying. They say we children are exaggerating, that we are alarmists. To answer this I would like to refer to page 108, chapter 2 in the latest IPCC report. There you will find all our "opinions" summarized because there you find a remaining carbon dioxide budget. Right there it says that if we are to have a sixty-seven percent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees, we had on January 1st, 2018, 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide left in our CO2 budget. And of course, that number is much lower today. We emit about 42 gigatons of CO2 every year.
Analysis: In her address to the National Assembly in Paris, Thunberg cites the 2018 “IPCC report” that outlines a total “remaining carbon dioxide budget” of “420 gigatons” in order to “have a sixty-seven percent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees,” while “we emit about 42 gigatons of CO2 each year.” By citing specific data from a reputable scientific journal, Thunberg appeals to her audience’s logic; the data proves that the only viable option is to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated
Example: Margaret Thatcher’s eulogy for Ronald Reagan (2004)
Yet his ideas, so clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth. Yes, he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion, yet he also sensed that it was being eaten away by systematic failures impossible to reform. Yes, he did not shrink from denouncing Moscow’s evil empire, but he realized that a man of goodwill might nonetheless emerge from its dark corridors.
Analysis: In her eulogy for United States President Ronald Reagan, Thatcher refers to the Soviet Union as “Moscow’s evil empire.” Her metonymy explicitly communicates a disdain for the Soviet Union, which establishes common ground between the United States and the United Kingdom, which helps Thatcher strengthen relations with the United States while eulogizing a friend.
the speed at which a piece of writing flows — use when discussing organization; point out where action/syntax begins to speed up, slow down, is interrupted, etc.
Example: Notes on ‘Camp’ by Susan Sontag (1964)
1. To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.
2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized — or at least apolitical.
Analysis: Sontag writes Notes on ‘Camp’ as a “series of jottings” rather than in paragraph format in order to mimic the spontaneous and ever-changing nature of Camp. By presenting her notes as a numbered list, Sontag develops a quick, irregular pace that is more fitting to describe the eccentricities of Camp. Because the notes are presented as a list, the ideas move by quickly, which further mirrors the whimsicality that is so characteristic of Camp.
apparently self-contradictory statement, the underlying meaning of which is revealed only by careful scrutiny; its purpose is to arrest attention and provoke fresh thought
Example: “On the Writing of Essays” by Alexander Smith (1881)
He is the frankest, most outspoken of writers; and that very frankness and outspokenness puts the reader off his guard. If you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness. The Essays are full of this trick. The frankness is as well simulated as the grape-branches of the Grecian artist which the birds flew towards and pecked. When Montaigne retreats, he does so like a skillful general, leaving his fires burning.
Analysis: Smith describes Montaigne’s writing style as very frank and outspoken, asserting that “if you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness.” Smith’s paradox, although outwardly nonsensical, forces the reader to pause and ruminate on the conflicting ideas, which naturally places emphasis on these ideas. Through his paradox, Smith suggests that an author’s works often contain intimate personal revelations that seem obvious, yet are often overlooked by most readers.
a repetition of sentences using the same grammatical structure emphasizing all aspects of the sentence equally
Example: “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” by Lou Gherig (1939)
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remembers you with trophies — that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that's the finest I know.
Analysis: Gherig presents a series of parallel sentences to emphasize his gratitude for the life he has lived. Because each sentence follows the same structure, Gherig’s list builds to a climax, which Gherig uses to enumerate his priorities and to emphasize his love for his family. Gherig further emphasizes his appreciation for his family even above his career by shifting from the phrase “that’s something” to describe his wife’s courage as “the finest” he knows. By breaking the pattern in his parallel sentences, Gherig focuses the attention on his family and loved ones, humbly placing his own successes on the back burner.
appealing to emotion
Example: Viola Davis’s Women’s March Speech (2018)
I am speaking today not just for the 'Me Toos,' because I was a 'Me Too,' but when I raise my hand, I am aware of all the women who are still in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don't have the money and don't have the constitution and who don't have the confidence and who don't have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that is rooted in the shame of assault and rooted in the stigma of assault.
Analysis: In her speech at the 2018 Women’s March, Viola Davis recognizes the millions of women who have been silently affected by sexual violence. She describes the women “don’t have the money,” “constitution,” or “confidence,” and those who still struggle with the “shame” and “stigma of assault.” Davis employs anaphora, repeating the phrase “don’t have” to evoke a sense of empathy for these women among the audience. By emphasizing that these victims “don’t have” the resources that many take for granted, Davis sheds light on the cruel reality that many victims still face due to the stigma surrounding sexual assault and women’s rights.
the use of many conjunctions has the effect of slowing the pace or emphasizing the numerous words or clauses
Example: “After the Storm” by Ernest Hemingway (1932)
I said, “Who killed him?” and he said, “I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,” and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water.
Analysis: After learning of the murder, the narrator describes as “dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town,” repeating the conjunction “and.” Hemingway employs
polysyndeton to illustrate the narrator’s shock and panic following the murder. By inserting “and” between each phrase, Hemingway slows down the pace of the sentence, conveying the sense of the narrator’s surroundings moving in slow motion after hearing the news.
a question presented by the author that is not meant to be answered
Example: Clare de Booth Luce’s Speech at the Women’s National Press Club (1960)
For what is good journalism all about? On a working, finite level it is the effort to achieve illuminating candor in print and to strip away cant. It is the effort to do this not only in matters of state, diplomacy, and politics but also in every smaller aspect of life that touches the public interest or engages proper public curiosity.
Analysis: In her speech at the Women’s National Press Club, de Booth asks the rhetorical question: “For what is good journalism all about?” in order to signal a shift in tone as she moves to describe the purpose of “good journalism.” By asking the audience a question, she invites them to consider their own motivations as journalists as she explains her own belief that “good journalism” is “the effort to achieve illuminating candor in print.” Rather than simply speaking about her views on journalism, de Booth expertly inserts a rhetorical question in order to evoke a moment of wonder and self-reflection in her audience before she answers her own question.
a technique that records the thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence; reflects all the forces, internal and external, affecting the character's psyche at the moment
Example: “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth (1851)
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Analysis: In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave a moving speech at the Women’s Rights Convention without preparation. Truth’s stream of consciousness approach to the speech allows her to directly address her audience, beginning by mentioning “that man over there” and refuting his beliefs that women are fragile. Truth then moves to note that she has “ploughed and planted” more successfully than men, and she moves to the fact that she can “work as much and eat as much as a man.” She shifts yet again to recount that she has “borne thirteen children” and that “none but Jesus” heard her cry with her “mother’s grief” when they were sold to slavery. Albeit slightly messy, Truth’s lack of structure is effective because it reflects the never-ending struggles that African American women faced. When the injustices seemed to cease, another injustice would arise in a never-ending cycle of oppression. Truth’s speech thus resonated with many other women who had experienced the same struggles, and Truth became a powerful voice in the fight racial and gender equality.
the rhetorical substitution of a part for the whole
Example: “Falling Down is Part of Growing Up” by Henry Petroski (1985)
We are transported across impromptu bridges of arms thrown up without plans or blueprints between mother and aunt, between neighbor and father, between brother and sister — none of whom is a registered structural engineer. We come to Mama and to Papa eventually to forget our scare reflex and we learn to trust the beams and girders and columns of their arms and our cribs.
Analysis: Petroski refers to a child’s parents and crib as “beams and girders and columns” that the child must trust, emphasizing the structural aspect of a young child’s support system. Instead of referring to the parents and crib as a whole, Petroski uses synecdoche to strip away the sentimental connotations associated with a mother’s arms and a baby’s crib, highlighting only the “beams and girders and columns” that prevent the child from falling and returning to his novel’s central topic of engineering.
the structure of sentences and/or phrases
Example: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
Analysis: In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King addresses those who instruct him to “wait” for racial equality by describing the “stinging pain of segregation” as seeing “vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers,” seeing “hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your brothers and sisters,” and seeing the “tears welling up” in your six-year-old daughter’s eyes when “she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children,” among a host of other horrific images. Rather than using several shorter sentences to describe segregation, King uses a single sentence, separated by numerous semicolons. King’s choice of syntax mirrors the never-ending reach of segregation and racial inequality. While the sentence consists of a string of short images, it pauses on a longer phrase in which King describes finding his “tongue-twisted” as he explains to his “six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television,” and seeing “tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children” while he watches the “ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky” and her “distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people.” By making this phrase significantly longer than his other images, King allows the reader to pause and ruminate on the idea of a young girl losing her innocence to an unjust world. King appeals to the reader’s emotions as he conveys such a heartbreaking image.
a statement of purpose, intent, or main idea in a literary work
Example: Notes on ‘Camp’ by Susan Sontag
58. The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful . . . Of course, one can't always say that. Only under certain conditions, those which I've tried to sketch in these notes.
Analysis: Sontag places her thesis at the end of her Notes on ‘Camp’, which allows her to summarize her list and to assert that Camp is “good because it’s awful.” Sontag concludes the notes by referencing her sporadic list of musings regarding Camp as a whole and declaring them the “conditions” under which Camp can be both good and awful.
the use of stylistic devices that reveal an author’s attitude towards a subject
Example: “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin (1979)
I say that the present skirmish is rooted in American history, and it is. Black English is the creation of the black diaspora. Blacks came to the United States chained to each other, but from different tribes: Neither could speak the other's language. If two black people, at that bitter hour of the world's history, had been able to speak to each other, the institution of chattel slavery could never have lasted as long as it did. Subsequently, the slave was given, under the eye, and the gun, of his master, Congo Square, and the Bible–or in other words, and under these conditions, the slave began the formation of the black church, and it is within this unprecedented tabernacle that black English began to be formed. This was not, merely, as in the European example, the adoption of a foreign tongue, but an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language: A language comes into existence by means of brutal necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey.
Analysis: Baldwin adopts a formal, academic tone, assessing the development of “Black English” through a historical lens. Baldwin concludes that “Black English is the creation of the black diaspora” as “an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language.” By using academic diction, Baldwin approaches the development of Black English not as a cultural or social issue, but simply as a historical phenomenon that should be studied objectively, which allows him to persuade his readers that Black English should be considered a distinct language.
One last disclaimer: Fiveable is an educational company without political or religious affiliations and it neither endorses nor opposes any views expressed in the above passages. There you go! When looking at each device and its corresponding example, think of ways and reasons authors integrate these rhetorical devices, styles, and terms into their writing! Thinking that much ahead will pay off when you write the Rhetorical Analysis essay in May! 😄
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