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Rhetorical Terms

Match Rhetorical Terms to their Definitions

AB
abstractrefers to language that describes concepts rather than concrete images ( ideas and qualities rather than observable or specific things, people, or places). The observable or “physical” is usually described in concrete language
ad hominemIn an argument, this is an attack on the person rather than on the opponent’s ideas. It comes from the Latin meaning “against the man.”
allegoryan extended narrative in prose or verse in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface of the story; the underlying meaning may be moral, religious, political, social, or satiric.
alliterationrepetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to one another: Mickey Mouse; Donald Duck
allusiona reference to a well-known person, place, or thing from literature, history, etc. Example: Eden
analogyComparison of two similar but different things, usually to clarify an action or a relationship, such as comparing the work of a heart to that of a pump. It is a comparison to a directly parallel case.
anaphoraRepetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row. This is a deliberate form of repetition and helps make the writer’s point more coherent. (Example: “There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows. There was the faint, cool kiss of sensuality. There was the vague sense of the infinite….”)
anecdotea short, simple narrative of an incident; often used for humorous effect or to make a point
annotationExplanatory notes added to a text to explain, cite sources, or give bibliographical data
antithesisthe presentation of two contrasting images. The ideas are balanced by word, phrase, clause, or paragraphs. “To be or not to be…” “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country….”
aphorismshort, often witty statement of a principle or a truth about life: “Early bird gets the worm.”
apostropheusually in poetry but sometimes in prose; the device of calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person or to a place, thing, or personified abstraction
argumentationwriting that attempts to prove the validity of a point of view or an idea by presenting reasoned arguments
assonancerepetition of vowel sounds between different consonants, such as in neigh/fade
asyndetonCommas used (with no conjunction) to separate a series of words. The parts are emphasized equally when the conjunction is omitted; in addition, the use of commas with no intervening conjunction speeds up the flow of the sentence. It takes the form of X, Y, Z as opposed to X, Y, and Z.
cacophonyharsh, awkward, or dissonant sounds used deliberately in poetry or prose; the opposite of euphony
caricaturedescriptive writing that greatly exaggerates a specific feature of a person’s appearance or a facet of personality.
colloquialisma word or phrase (including slang) used in everyday conversation and informal writing but that is often inappropriate in formal writing (y’all, ain’t)
coherencequality of a piece of writing in which all the parts contribute to the development of the central idea, theme, or organizing principle
concrete languagedescribes specific, observable things, people, or places, rather than ideas or qualities
connotationimplied or suggested meaning of a word because of its association in the reader’s mind
consonancerepetition of identical consonant sounds within two or more words in close proximity, as in boost/best; it can also be seen within several compound words, such as fulfill and ping-pong
conundruma riddle whose answer is or involves a pun; it may also be a paradox or difficult problem
deductionthe process of moving from a general rule to a specific example
denotationliteral meaning of a word as defined
descriptionthe picturing in words of something or someone through detailed observation of color, motion, sound, taste, smell, and touch; one of the four modes of discourse
dictionword choice, an element of style; it creates tone, attitude, and style, as well as meaning. Different types and arrangements of words have significant effects on meaning. An essay written in academic ______ would be much less colorful, but perhaps more precise than street slang.
didacticwriting whose purpose is to instruct or to teach. The work is usually formal and focuses on moral or ethical concerns. This type of writing may be fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking.
discoursespoken or written language, including literary works; the four traditionally classified modes of ____________ are description, exposition, narration, and persuasion.
dissonanceharsh or grating sounds that do not go together
dramatic ironyWhen the reader is aware of an inconsistency between a fictional or nonfictional character’s perception of a situation and the truth of that situation
emotional appealWhen a writer appeals to readers’ emotions (often through pathos) to excite and involve them in the argument
epigraphthe use of a quotation at the beginning of a work that hints at its theme. Hemingway begins The Sun Also Rises with two quotations. One of them is “You are all a lost generation” by Gertrude Stein.
ethical appealWhen a writer tries to persuade the audience to respect and believe him or her based on a presentation of image of self through the text. Reputation is sometimes a factor in this type of appeal, but in all cases the aim is to gain the audience’s confidence. (Ethos)
euphemisma more acceptable and usually more pleasant way of saying something that might be inappropriate or uncomfortable. “He went to his final reward” is a common saying for “he died.” These are also often used to obscure the reality of a situation. The military uses “collateral damage” to indicate civilian deaths in a military operation.
euphonya succession of harmonious sounds used in poetry or prose; the opposite of cacophony
exampleAn individual instance taken to be representative of a general pattern. Arguing through this process is considered reliable if _______________ are demonstrable true or factual as well as relevant.
explicationThe art of interpreting or discovering the meaning of a text. It usually involves close reading and special attention to figurative language.
expositionimmediate revelation to the audience of the setting and other background information necessary for understanding the plot; also, explanation; one of the four modes of discourse
extended metaphora sustained comparison, often referred to as a conceit
false analogyWhen two cases are not sufficiently parallel to lead readers to accept a claim of connection between them.
figurative languagelanguage that contains figures of speech, such as similes and metaphors, in order to create associations that are imaginative rather than literal.
figures of speechexpressions, such as similes, metaphors, and personifications, that make imaginative, rather than literal, comparisons or associations.
foreshadowingthe use of a hint or clue to suggest a larger event that occurs late in the work
freight trainSentence consisting of three or more very short independent clauses joined by conjunctions.
generalizationWhen a writer bases a claim upon an isolated example or asserts that a claim is certain rather than probable. Sweeping generalizations occur when a writer asserts that a claim applies to all instances instead of some
genrea type of literary work, such as a novel or poem
hubristhe excessive pride of ambition that leads a tragic hero to disregard warnings of impending doom, eventually causing his or her downfall.
humoranything that causes laughter or amusement; up until the end of the Renaissance, humor meant a person’s temperament
hyperboledeliberate exaggeration in order to create humor or emphasis (Example: He was so hungry he could have eaten a horse.)
imageA word or words, either figurative or literal, used to describe a sensory experience or an object perceived by the sense.
imagerywords or phrases that use a collection of images to appeal to one or more of the five senses in order to create a mental picture
inductionthe process that moves from a given series of specifics to a generalization
inferencea conclusion one can draw from the presented details
interior monologuewriting that records the conversation that occurs inside a character’s head
invectivea verbally abusive attack
inversionreversing the customary (subject first, then verb, then complement) order of elements in a sentence or phrase; it is used effectively in many cases, such as posing a question: “Are you going to the store?” Usually, the element that appears first is emphasized more than the subject.
ironya situation or statement in which the actual outcome or meaning is opposite to what was expected
jargonThe special language of a profession or group. The term usually has pejorative associations, with the implication that it is evasive, tedious, and unintelligible to outsiders
logicthe process of reasoning
logical fallacya mistake in reasoning
lyricalSonglike; characterized by emotions, subjectivity, and imagination
metaphora figure of speech in which one thing is referred to as another; for example, “my love is a fragile flower”
metonymya figure of speech that uses the name of an object, person, or idea to represent something with which it is associated, such as using “the crown” to refer to a monarch ; Also, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
moodsimilar to tone, it is the primary emotional attitude of a work (the feeling of the work; the atmosphere). Syntax is also a determiner of this term because sentence strength, length, and complexity affect pacing.
morallesson drawn from a fictional or nonfictional story. It can also mean a heavily didactic story.
motifmain theme or subject of a work that is elaborated on in the development of the piece; a repeated pattern or idea
narrationthe telling of a story in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or drama; one of the four modes of discourse
negative-positiveSentence that begins by stating what is NOT true, then ending by stating what is true.
Non-sequiturLatin for “it does not follow.” When one statement isn’t logically connected to another
objectivityan impersonal presentation of events and characters. It is a writer’s attempt to remove himself or herself from any subjective, personal involvement in a story.
onomatopoeiathe use of words that sound like what they mean, such as “hiss,” “buzz,” “slam,” and “boom”
oversimplicationWhen a writer obscures or denies the complexity of the issues in an argument
oxymorona figure of speech composed of contradictory words or phrases, such as “wise fool,” bitter-sweet,” “pretty ugly,” “jumbo shrimp,” “cold fire”
pacingthe movement of a literary piece from one point or one section to another
parablea short tale that teaches a moral; similar to but shorter than an allegory
paradoxa statement that seems to contradict itself but that turns out to have a rational meaning, as in this quotation from Henry David Thoreau; “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
parallelismthe technique of arranging words, phrases, clauses, or larger structures by placing them side by side and making them similar in form.
parodya work that ridicules the style of another work by imitating and exaggerating its elements. . It can be utterly mocking or gently humorous. It depends on allusion and exaggerates and distorts the original style and content.
pathosan element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
pedanticterm used to describe writing that borders on lecturing. It is scholarly and academic and often overly difficult and distant
personificationthe attribution of human qualities to a nonhuman or an inanimate object
persuasiona form of argumentation, one of the four modes of discourse; language intended to convince through appeals to reason or emotion.
point of viewthe perspective from which a story is presented
polysyndetonSentence which uses and or another conjunction (with no commas) to separate the items in a series. Polysyndeton appear in the form of X and Y and Z, stressing equally each member of a series. It makes the sentence slower and the items more emphatic than in the asyndeton
protagonistthe main character of a literary work
red herringWhen a writer raises an irrelevant issue to draw attention away from the real issue
Reductio ad Absurdumthe Latin for “to reduce to the absurd.” This is a technique useful in creating a comic effect and is also an argumentative technique. It is considered a rhetorical fallacy because it reduces an argument to an either/or choice
regionalisman element in literature that conveys a realistic portrayal of a specific geographical locale, using the locale and its influences as a major part of the plot
repetitionWord or phrase used two or more times in close proximity
rhetoricthe art of effective communication, especially persuasive discourse
rhetorical modesexposition, description, narration, argumentation
rhetorical questionone that does not expect an explicit answer. It is used to pose an idea to be considered by the speaker or audience.
sarcasmharsh, caustic personal remarks to or about someone; less subtle than irony
satireA work that reveals a critical attitude toward some element of human behavior by portraying it in an extreme way. It doesn’t simply abuse (as in invective) or get personal (as in sarcasm). It targets groups or large concepts rather than individuals.
settingTime and place of a literary work
similea figure of speech that uses like, as, or as if to make a direct comparison between two essentially different objects, actions, or qualities; for example, “The sky looked like an artist’s canvas.”
speakerthe voice of a work; an author may speak as himself or herself or as a fictitious persona
stereotypea character who represents a trait that is usually attributed to a particular social or racial group and who lacks individuality; a conventional pattern, expression or idea.
straw mana writer argues against a claim that nobody actually holds or is universally considered weak
stylean author’s characteristic manner of expression – his or her diction, syntax, imagery, structure, and content all contribute
subjectivitya personal presentation of events and characters, influenced by the author’s feelings and opinions
syllogismform of reasoning in which two statements are made and a conclusion is drawn from them
symbolismuse of symbols or anything that is meant to be taken both literally and as representative of a higher and more complex significance
Synecdochea figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent a whole, such as using “boards” to mean a stage or “wheels” to mean a car – or “All hands on deck.”
syntactic fluencyAbility to create a variety of sentence structures, appropriately complex and/or simple and varied in length.
syntactic permutationSentence structures that are extraordinarily complex and involved. They are often difficult for a reader to follow.
syntaxthe grammatical structure of a sentence; the arrangement of words in a sentence. It includes length of sentence, kinds of sentences (questions, exclamations, declarative sentences, rhetorical questions, simple, complex, or compound).
themethe central idea or “message” or a literary work
thesisthe main idea of a piece of writing. It presents the author’s assertion or claim. The effectiveness of a presentation is often based on how well the writer presents, develops, and supports this
tonethe characteristic emotion or attitude of an author toward the characters, subject, and audience (anger, sarcastic, loving, didactic, emotional, etc.)
transitiona word or phrase that links one idea to the next and carries the reader from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph
tricolonSentence consisting of three parts of equal importance and length, usually three independent clauses.
understatementthe opposite of exaggeration. It is a technique for developing irony and/or humor where one writes or says less than intended.
unityquality of a piece of writing (also see coherence)
voicerefers to two different areas of writing. One refers to the relationship between a sentence’s subject and verb (active and passive voice). The second refers to the total “sound” of a writer’s style.


British Literature Teacher
Kennesaw Mountain High School
Ellijay, GA

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