Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical Devices
1. Alliteration: a rhetorical device that repeats the same sound or letter beginning
several words in sequence.
“Vendi, vidi, vinci” – Julius Caesar
“We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will”
-Winston Churchill
“Our party . . . has always been at its best when we’ve led not by polls, but by
principle; not by calculation, but by conviction” –Barack Obama
2. Allusion: a short reference to a famous person or event (the best allusions are
literature, history, Greek myth, and the Bible, as they must be easily understood).
It is also important that it explains, or enhances the subject under discussion
without sidetracking the listener.
“If you take his parking place, you can expect World War II all over again”
3. Anaphora: a rhetorical device that repeats the same words at the beginning of
successive phrases, or sentences.
“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot
hallow this ground” –Abraham Lincoln
“To think on death it is misery,/ To think on life it is a vanity;/ To think on the
world verily it is,/ To think that here man hath no perfect bliss” –Peacham
4. Antithesis: one of the most common rhetorical devices, this deliberately
contrasts two opposing ideas in consecutive phrases or sentences.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live ina nation where they
will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” –Martin
Luther King Jr.
“We have to learn to live together or we’re gonna die alone.” –“Jack Shepherd”
from LOST
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant for leap for mankind” –Neil
“To be or not to be, that is the question” –William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it
was the age of foolishness . . .” –Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
5. Chiasmus: a very effective technique where the words in one phrase or clause
are reversed in the next.
“And so, my fellow American, ask not what your country can do for you; ask
what you can do for your country” –John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” –unknown
6. Parallelism: a device which is a figure of balance identified by successive words
or phrases with the same or very similar grammatical structure.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will
learn” –Benjamin Franklin
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the
North, general of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus
Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have
my vengeance – in this life or the next” –Russell Crowe (from the movie
“We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past
exhaustion. We’ve seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving
of blood, the saying of prayers – in English, Hebrew, and Arabic” –George W.
“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are
no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed” –Barack Obama
Another technique that JFK used in his speeches:
Simplicity: Like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill before him,
JFK never used a $10 word when a 10 cent one would do the job just as
well. He was a master of simple, plain speaking. In the paragraph of his
inaugural address that begins, “In the long history of the world . . .” there
are 111 words, but 102 of them consist of only one or two syllables. And
of the 9 ‘longer’ words – history, generations, defending maximum,
responsibility, generation, devotion, endeavor, and Americans – none
could be considered “fancy” or unusual. It was also one of the shorter
inaugural addresses.