10 intriguing rhetorical devices

Some of these devices, such as hyperbole, everyone knows, but others are lesser known. For instance, very few—very few—people know how to use an epizeuxis.


It’s an election year and we’re all being regaled with political messages: TV and radio ads, Twitter posts, blogs, debates, and so on.

Although I’m not particularly interested in politics, I am intrigued by the ways candidates use rhetorical devices in their messages.

As writers and communicators, we’re all familiar with the more common devices, such as hyperbole, allusion, and analogy. Some others are more obscure. Next time you hear a political message, see whether you detect any of these rhetorical devices.

1. Allusion—an indirect or casual reference to a historical or literary figure, event, or object.

Example: I named my protagonist Helena, an allusion to the wide-eyed and bewildered character in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

2. Antiphrasis—the use of a word opposite to its proper meaning; irony.

Example: The editor calmly yelled at her writing staff about the importance of fact-checking.

3. Apophasis—accentuating something by denying that it will be mentioned.

Example: I won’t even mention that you misspelled the company name in the press release.

4. Aporia—expressing doubt about an idea, conclusion, or position.

Example: I have never been able to decide where I stand on the serial comma, mostly because of the extremism for and against its use.

5. Aposiopesis—stopping abruptly and leaving a statement unfinished, giving the impression that the writer or speaker is unwilling or unable to continue.

Example: John’s behavior at the holiday party made it clear to everyone that he is a . . . but we won’t speak of that.

6. Analogy—a comparison of two things. Metaphors and similes are both types of analogy.

Example: Under her leadership, our workplace had become like “Animal Farm.”

7. Hyperbole—using exaggeration for emphasis or effect; overstatement.

Example: If you take proper hyphenation too seriously, you will surely go mad.

8. Sententia—quoting a maxim or wise saying to apply a general truth to the situation, thereby offering a single statement of general wisdom.

Example: Perhaps we should all remember what Stephen King once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

9. Pleonasm—using more words than necessary to express an idea.

Example: I forgot my PIN number for the ATM machine.

10. Epizeuxis—the immediate repetition of words for emphasis.

Example: The answer to that question is no, no, no, a thousand times no.

Ragan readers, care to share your favorite rhetorical devices?

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