Trend Watch

Rhetoric

When:

Lookups spiked the week of September 3, 2012

Why:

This complex word was widely used during the Republican and Democratic conventions, generally to disparage the opposition's speeches. Used in that way, rhetoric means insincere and often grand language that is intended to influence people.

However, the word can also be used in a positive sense (e.g. "inspiring rhetoric"), meaning the art or skill of speaking persuasively.

And it can have a more neutral sense (e.g. "campaign rhetoric"), referring simply to a type of language or speech.

The word has classical origins. Rhetoric began as the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by ancient critics. (You can read more about the history of rhetoric in our Concise Encyclopedia).

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