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Rhetoric is "The art of using language so as to persuade or influence others" (OED). The word is derived from the Greek ρητωρ, rhetor meaning '[professional] orator', or 'teacher of rhetoric', so classically it is "the art of public speaking". This was the essential tool of politics, the law, religion and all public business in a pre-literate age. Now that most business is conducted by means of the written word, speaking is less important, and so rhetoric is used as a stylistic term to cover

  • the kind of writing that resembles spoken argument; the elegance and stylistic mannerisms that appear to belong to speeches
  • the art of persuasive language
  • pejoratively, sometimes in the phrases 'empty rhetoric' and 'mere rhetoric', language which sounds good without having any valuable content; 'style without substance'.
    • In this bad sense, it has been defined as "The ability to use language well, through the practice of exaggeration, to influence others" (TeacherVision, [[1]], accessed 23/05/08): it should not be used to mean 'exaggeration'.

In some fields, notably historical linguistics and the Classics, rhetoric can mean "the body of rules to be observed by a speaker or writer in order that he may express himself with eloquence" (OED). In a development of this sense, it has been used to mean '[the teaching of] prose writing, or prose style' - what was traditionally called 'composition' in England. In Universities in Scotland and North America, amongst others, rhetorical studies "came to be known in composition studies as modes of discourse" (City University of New York [[2]]); and courses in rhetoric can be described as studying "the theoretical, historical, and cultural dimensions of interpretation and criticism, in fields as diverse as political theory, gender, law, media studies, philosophy, and literature" (University of California, [[3]].

In the Middle Ages rhetoric was reckoned one of the seven ‘liberal arts’, being comprised, with grammar and logic, in the ‘trivium’.

The Department of Rhetoric is a leading center for interdisciplinary research and teaching in the humanities and social sciences. Linked by a common interest in the functions of discourse in all its forms, faculty and students engage