What Is a Rhetorical Device?

Lee Johnson

A rhetorical device is a technique used in language to convey ideas and messages in a persuasive way. Different rhetorical devices are classified as being related to logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos is an appeal to logic, pathos is an appeal to emotion, and ethos is an appeal to the perception of the speaker’s character. An example of a rhetorical device is hyperbole, which is essentially exaggeration for emotive effect. Several rhetorical devices are often combined in political speeches and advertisements to persuade the listener or reader to accept an argument.

Several rhetorical devices may be used to promote products by salespeople or advertisers.
Several rhetorical devices may be used to promote products by salespeople or advertisers.

The definition of a rhetorical device is a technique used to convey information in a persuasive fashion. These devices are set methods of presenting information for logical or emotional effect. They can also be used to negate the emotional impact of ideas or arguments. For example, a politician arguing for the legalization of hunting an animal may use a euphemism to reduce the emotional impact of the action. The word “culling” is emotionally neutral when compared to a word such as “murdering” or “killing,” which has the same logical meaning.

Politicians may use rhetorical devices to exaggerate their own accomplishments in office.
Politicians may use rhetorical devices to exaggerate their own accomplishments in office.

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Pathos is the appeal to emotion, and several different devices can be used to appeal to this area of rhetoric. One rhetorical device related to pathos is personification. For example, a politician may say that “the country’s welfare system is lying abandoned on the ground like a diseased, orphaned child, and it is time to pick it up.” This rhetorical device allows the speaker to create an emotional response to an unemotional topic by speaking about it as if it was human. Listeners and readers may then associate the emotion felt for the rhetorical orphan child with the neglect of the welfare system.

Rhetorical appeals that focus on logic may be used in academia.
Rhetorical appeals that focus on logic may be used in academia.

Ethos is an area of rhetoric related to the character of the speaker, and different devices can be used to appeal to it. Hyperbole is one rhetorical device that can be used to affect listeners’ or readers’ perception of a person’s character. Politicians can use this to exaggerate their own achievements or the failures of an opponent. For example, a politician may denounce his or her opponent’s “wanton destruction of everything we hold dear” if the opponent has proposed the sale of the country’s forests. The actual action may have valid reasons behind it, and is certainly not related to “everything we hold dear,” but the exaggeration makes the opponent seem like a monster.

Personification is a rhetorical device that may be utilized to evoke emotion.
Personification is a rhetorical device that may be utilized to evoke emotion.

Appeals to logos are the final main group of devices, relating to the logical basis for a decision. A syllogism is the most common rhetorical device used to appeal to logic. This is a three-part argument in which the conclusion is definitely true given the truth of two premises. For example, an advert may state, “Mint X cures bad breath, and bad breath can stop you from making friends, therefore mint X helps you make friends.” If the listener accepts that the mint cures bad breath and bad breath can stop you from making friends, they have to accept that the mint helps people make friends in some way.

Politicians often appeal to the emotions of voters in speeches.
Politicians often appeal to the emotions of voters in speeches.

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