rhet·​o·​ric | \ˈre-tə-rik \

Definition of rhetoric 

1 : the art of speaking or writing effectively: such as

a : the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times

b : the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion

2a : skill in the effective use of speech

b : a type or mode of language or speech also : insincere or grandiloquent language

3 : verbal communication : discourse

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Synonyms & Antonyms for rhetoric


articulacy [chiefly British], articulateness, eloquence, poetry



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Examples of rhetoric in a Sentence

The media almost never discuss what the sweeping dismantling of public services inherent in the rhetoric of the antigovernment movement would mean in practice. — E. J. Dionne, Jr., Commonweal, 20 Nov. 2009 What they are in reality are the romantic words of a man who needs glorious rhetoric to cover up murderous reality. — Pete Hamill, Cosmopolitan, April 1976 No speech could have been more thoroughly honest in its intention: the frigid rhetoric at the end was as sincere as the bark of a dog, or the cawing of an amorous rook. — George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1872 Otherwise he might have been a great general, blowing up all sorts of towns, or he might have been a great politician, dealing in all sorts of parliamentary rhetoric; but as it was, he and the Court of Chancery had fallen upon each other in the pleasantest way, and nobody was much the worse … — Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-53 a college course in rhetoric the mayor's promise to fight drugs was just rhetoric, since there was no money in the city budget for a drug program
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Recent Examples on the Web

But what is clear is that Trump's rhetoric is having real effects. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, "Trump clashes with Europe ahead of Putin summit," 13 July 2018 Trump's rhetoric against journalists has already escalated into real violence at his rallies: Last year a reporter and photographer say they were assaulted by Trump supporters at his rally in Huntington Beach, CA. refinery29.com, "Area Man Who Called Journalists Enemies Offers Thoughts & Prayers For Murdered Reporters," 29 June 2018 Even though that directive was neutral about religion, the history and context, like Mr. Trump’s political rhetoric, suggested it was tainted by unconstitutional religious discrimination. Charlie Savage, New York Times, "Korematsu, Notorious Supreme Court Ruling on Japanese Internment, Is Finally Tossed Out," 26 June 2018 But in other districts, lawmakers are lining up behind Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Siobhan Hughes, WSJ, "Divided GOP Lawmakers Seek Another Vote on Immigration," 24 June 2018 Trump’s rhetoric against cars made in Germany, Japan and Mexico was common on the campaign trail and continued early on in his presidency. Fortune, "BMW and Audi Dealers Are Bracing for 'Scary,' 'Tragic' Trump Tariffs," 23 June 2018 In a way, this is old news: Washington rhetoric has been colliding with realities on the ground for decades, regardless of the topic or the administration. BostonGlobe.com, "On Texas border, despite what Trump says, some see no crisis," 23 June 2018 These days, amid Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric, incidents of people being berated for speaking Spanish have gone viral on social media — reconfirming español's status as perhaps the most polarizing language in the U.S. today. latimes.com, "Today: A Plastic Purge, or the Last Straw?," 29 May 2018 Trump’s own rhetoric after the meeting provides more evidence he was briefed on the Russian offer to provide dirt on Clinton. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Says There’s No Evidence of Collusion. There Is So Much Evidence Already.," 1 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rhetoric.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of rhetoric

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for rhetoric

Middle English rethorik, from Anglo-French rethorique, from Latin rhetorica, from Greek rhētorikē, literally, art of oratory, from feminine of rhētorikos of an orator, from rhētōr orator, rhetorician, from eirein to say, speak — more at word

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Statistics for rhetoric

Last Updated

11 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for rhetoric

The first known use of rhetoric was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for rhetoric



English Language Learners Definition of rhetoric

: language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

: the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people

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Comments on rhetoric

What made you want to look up rhetoric? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


noxious or harmful

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