Advance warning, dear reader, I’m indulging a desire to really geek out on some rhetoric here. I invite you to come along and get your word nerd on with me…
I’m currently making a new series of Pop-Up Rhetoric videos (they aren’t released yet, but you can check out other Pop-Up Rhetoric videos on my YouTube channel). These videos bring to life the analyses of 3 political speeches and a presidential debate featured in Appendix 1 of my book.
This project means I’m mired in rhetorical terminology – mostly Latin and Greek. Pathos! Logos! Concessio! Epizeuxis! Using these terms always means risking making people’s eyes cross or putting them to sleep. These were the kinds of terms that high school students were required to memorize in English class, creating an irritable soup of confusion and ennui.
So why do I insist on using them in my videos, my talks, and my training? Why do I talk about Logos instead of logic, or concessio instead of conceding?
I’ve got three reasons.
First, it’s because simplified English translations of these words don’t work very well.
The direct translations tend to be inaccurate – they miss core concepts and usually require lengthy explanations. Dignitas is more faceted and complex than the closest English word ‘dignity’ implies. It’s much easier (and more fun) to say epizeuxis than it is to say “repeat a word over and over with increasing force for vehemence or emphasis.”
Second, using technical terms changes fuzzy, ephemeral ideas into hardnosed tools that can be wielded strategically.
Many of us have a mental block when it comes to developing a strategic approach to speaking. We think that skillful speaking is more alchemy and instinct than careful planning. We spend all our time tweaking the content or memorizing lines than we do figuring out how to use language, voice, and body to give our words bigger impact.
Third, using technical terms helps strip away some of the baggage and pre-conceptions about rhetoric and how it can be used.
For example, most people instinctively translate logos into logic, and then confuse ‘logic’ with truth or fact. But logos is less about truth or fact and more about what you choose to offer as evidence or proof based on your audience’s viewpoint. Logos also incorporates how you arrange that evidence within your argument to make it as convincing as possible. Using a logical fallacy is fair game when playing with the logos part of your argument. All those details about logos tend to get lost or overlooked when we call it “logic.”
Similarly, I find people can think more objectively about strategically using emotional hooks in their speech if we talk about figuring out the pathos than if we talk about how to work the audience’s emotions. Working people emotions feels icky and manipulative. But digging into different pathos devices seems more strategic.
Truth be told, I really don’t care if people can remember the technical names of different rhetorical devices and concepts. Heck, I can’t remember them all either – that’s why God made reference books. I’m much more concerned with whether people are able to apply the concepts they carry.
But if you find yourself struggling to get your head into the rhetoric game, or are looking for a way to express or nail down an especially slippery concept, or need to step back and really examine the effectiveness of your presentation, consider putting your toga on and switching over to those good ol’ dead languages. That rhetorical jargon might just help you unlock your genius.