rhet·​o·​ric | \ ˈre-tə-rik How to pronounce rhetoric (audio) \

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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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 Such rhetoric is also routinely described as anti-Semitic by Jewish and other groups. Steve Emerson, National Review, "Radical ‘Anti-Zionist’ Activists Show Their True Colors in Chicago," 5 Dec. 2019 The quick-witted, chatty dialogue in Bombshell, written by Charles Randolph of The Big Short, reflects a newsroom where chauvinistic rhetoric was the norm—but the opening lines are soft blows compared to the rest of the movie. Brooke Bobb, Vogue, "Stilettos, Spanx, and Push-Up Bras: Bombshell Goes Inside the Fox News Wardrobe Closet," 29 Nov. 2019 But this bold rhetoric is deepening existing stigma surrounding traditional sanitation practices, widening the rift between the urban rich and poor. Purva Dewoolkar, Quartz India, "India and China compete again—for whose toilet revolution is worse," 20 Nov. 2019 Such anti-Israel rhetoric is completely unacceptable. Fox News, "US rebukes Germany for refusal to say Iran's threat to destroy Israel is anti-Semitic," 30 Oct. 2019 Anti-Semitic rhetoric is present on state media, which is fully under the party’s control. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Poles to vote in one of most important elections in decades," 12 Oct. 2019 The coded phrases employed for black and white football players are familiar to anyone who follows the sport; this rhetoric has been a plot point in Friday Night Lights and fodder for parody in Key and Peele. Robert O'connell, The Atlantic, "Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s Quarterback Double Standard," 20 Sep. 2019 The threat is existential, from their vantage, and the rhetoric is no-nonsense. Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, "The Faces of Young Protesters at New York City’s Climate Strike," 20 Sep. 2019 For older students rhetoric was a central area of study, especially for those eyeing a career in public life. Raquel López, National Geographic, "Did sons and daughters get the same education in ancient Greece?," 28 Aug. 2019

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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Time Traveler for rhetoric

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for rhetoric

Last Updated

9 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Rhetoric.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetoric?show=0&t=1315999041. Accessed 12 December 2019.

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More Definitions for rhetoric


How to pronounce rhetoric (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of rhetoric

often disapproving : 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).


a period of high artistic development

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