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


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

Again, Trump has earned the skepticism about his relationship — and rhetoric — towards Putin. Chuck Todd, NBC News, "Trump's wrecking ball tears through NATO," 12 July 2018 The Obama Center’s architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of New York, hope to achieve a similar effect with screenlike walls of letters that symbolize Obama’s ability to transform ordinary words into soaring rhetoric. Blair Kamin, chicagotribune.com, "The national African-American museum still stirs the soul — and drops hints of what to expect at the Obama Presidential Center," 11 July 2018 North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean won’t be getting infusions of stability from NATO, which also cannot offer a counterweight to Erdogan’s nationalist rhetoric for Turkey. Heather Hurlburt, Daily Intelligencer, "Even the Best-Case Scenario for What Trump Does at the NATO Summit Is Pretty Grim," 9 July 2018 Trump’s history of harsh rhetoric targeting minorities also taints standard-fare GOP initiatives such as cutting food stamps and imposing work requirements on Medicaid and other social services. Annie Linskey, BostonGlobe.com, "President Trump’s racially charged words dovetail with harsh policies," 9 July 2018 Trump's rhetoric, therefore, appears to have significantly increased the resolve of Europe to have independent rockets to reach space, its own GPS-like system, and its own satellites. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "European rocket chief: Trump rhetoric strengthens our commitment to space," 2 July 2018 The president has repeatedly sought to inflame rhetoric and incite animosity toward the press. David Zurawik, baltimoresun.com, "Hannity outrageously points finger at Waters, Obama for rhetoric that fed Annapolis Capital Gazette shooting," 29 June 2018 The harsh rhetoric suggested that Trump had no intention of patching up relationships bruised by a contentious Group of Seven summit in Canada last month. Gregory Korte, USA TODAY, "Trump blasts Germany as being 'captive to Russia' in tiff over NATO defense spending," 11 July 2018 So far, China’s exports to the United States have risen despite the escalating rhetoric between Washington and Beijing. New York Times, "Moguls Rub Shoulders in Idaho, and China Releases Trade Numbers," 8 July 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

16 Sep 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

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a magnificent or impressive array

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