Sunday, December 02, 2007


I realize I have not posted anything up last month. Oh well.

Indeed, I have been thinking about another Atlantean short story, one set in the time of Tarasha Lehe--but the story is still swimming and lingering in mind's lonely seas and it will probably take some time to surface. For now, I will 'cheat' by posting up the bare text (literally--as the formatting and font adjustments are gone) of some introductory rhetoric notes that I have prepared for next year's students; though I would be gone from the school by then. I have also attached a rhetoric-heavy speech from the fictional defense minister of a fictional state (Salem--but not the Atlantean version). Enjoy.

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric, a term coined by the Greeks, is the art of persuasion. It studies how we use the content (what we say) and form of language (how we say it) to appeal to an audience’s reason (logos) and emotions (pathos). It also analyses how we appeal to the authority of one’s character or that of other people (ethos).

Rhetoric is a complex subject, and these introductory notes will help you acquire a good foundation for further studies and provide some immediately applicable rhetorical techniques. However, we will not cover how we can construct strong arguments (content) to appeal to logos. Instead, we will focus mainly on 6 easily applicable devices that appeal mainly to pathos and ethos: parallelism/antithesis, descriptions, rhetorical questions/hypophora and appeal to authority.


From Gk. parallelos “side-by-side”

Parallelism refers to the creation of sentence(s) with similar linguistic structures comprising of pairs or series of related words, phrases or clauses.

parallelism of words: She tried to make her pastry fluffy, sweet, and delicate.
parallelism of phrases: Singing a song or writing a poem is joyous.
parallelism of clauses:Perch are inexpensive; cod are cheap; trout are abundant; but salmon are best.

Parallelism creates smoothness, rhythm, balance and clarity. It allows your listener or reader to understand you more deeply and easily (thus appealing to logos). It also helps your audience to read your writing or listen to your speech with more pleasure and interest (thus appealing to pathos). Here are some examples of parallelism from past writers:

They had great skill in optics, and had instructed him to see faults in others, and beauties in himself, that could be discovered by nobody else

--Alexander Pope

I shall never envy the honors which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardor to virtue, and confidence to truth.

--Samuel Johnson

For the end of a theoretical science is truth, but the end of a practical science is performance


Parallelism can be coupled powerfully with another rhetorical device: antithesis, where the writer establishes a clear, contrasting relationship between two ideas by juxtaposing them. Indeed, the earlier quotes by Pope and Aristotle illustrate this coupling. Here are more examples:

If we try, we might succeed; if we do not try, we cannot succeed.

Success makes men proud; failure makes them wise.

Though surprising, it is true; though frightening at first, it is really harmless.

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind

--Neil Armstrong

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

--Alexander Pope

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted

--Matt 23:12 (ESV)

Using antithesis and parallelism enhances clarity and emphasis when contrasting ideas. The sense of rhythm, balance and paradox also stimulates the reader’s interest.


In the Exercise section behind, you will edit sentences for parallelism. This skill will help you in your process writing and drafting exercises.


en-ar'-gi-a from Gk. enarges, "visible, palpable, manifest"
diatyposis, hypotyposis
demonstratio, descriptio

Describing something vividly is one of the most effective ways to appeal to emotion. A sentence or paragraph full of concrete and palpable details is usually more emotionally evocative than equivalent abstractions. To quote from Paul Roberts’ classic essay, ‘How to Say Nothing in 500 Words”:

If you study the essay on college football [the extract is quoted earlier]…you will perceive that one reason for its appalling dullness is that it never gets down to particulars. It is just a series of not very glittering generalities: “football is bad for the colleges”, “it has become too commercial” and so on. If you want the reader to believe that college football is bad for the players, you have to do more than say so. You have to display the evil. Take your roommate, Alfred Simkins, the second-string center. Picture poor old Alfy coming home from football practice every evening, bruised and aching, agonizingly tired, scarcely able to shovel the mashed potatoes into his mouth. Let us see him staggering up to the room, getting out his econ textbook, peering desperately at it with his good eye, falling asleep and failing the test in the morning.”

You would have learnt how to do descriptive writing (including the use of figurative language) in your earlier modules, and we will not belabor its techniques here.


In the Exercise section, you will analyze two passages. The first, “What is Poverty?”, is an unconventional persuasive essay comprised mainly of descriptions. Discuss and analyze whether the descriptions appeal effectively to a reader’s emotions and how they achieve this effect. Also discuss the implicit thesis of the essay and the unusual first person perspective. Do note you are not encouraged to write an argumentative essay with such an unconventional structure.

The second passage, “Who Swims with the Tuna?” is an article that mixes description with other argumentative patterns, e.g. comparison and contrast. Discuss and analyze whether the descriptions appeal effectively to a reader’s emotions and how they achieve this effect. Notice also the effects produced by the extensive use of parallelism and antithesis.

Do note that the style of this essay is closer to the types of writing you would be doing. Descriptions should be a spice in your main course; a garnishing that should not be used excessively. Sharp isles of reality in a sea of lucid but rather colorless text; controlled dramas of sound and evocative fury in plain relief—that is the idea.

A Note on Figurative Language

Aristotle has noted that to be a master of figurative language is a ‘sign of genius’. But merely rolling out a riot of flowery verse is not sufficient; a good figure is one that illuminates—it clarifies complexity, deepens simplicity and reveals an “intuitive perception of similarity among dissimilars”. A good figure delights, and it educates.

And because of the difficulty of conjuring apt figures, they should be used sparingly and carefully!

Some contemporary examples:

Warts are wonderful structures. They can appear overnight on any part of the skin, like mushrooms on a damp lawn, full grown and splendid in the complexity of their architecture.

--Lewis Thomas on warts, a skin disease

We thought galaxies formed just like they are. But now we think they grew; they assembled themselves from smaller pieces. It might have been like rain on the side of a hill. First you get little rivulets that flow together into a larger stream…

--John Mather

Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.

--Arthur Golden

Some older examples:

The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched with foreign matter.

--Joshua Reynolds

Thus a mind that is free from passion is a very citadel; man has no stronger fortress in which to seek shelter and defy every assault. Failure to perceive this is ignorance; but to perceive it, and still not to seek its refuge, is misfortune indeed.

--Marcus Aurelius

What sort of a monster then is man? What a novelty, what a portent, what a chaos, what a mass of contradictions, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, a ridiculous earthworm who is the repository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the glory and the scum of the world.

--Blaise Pascal


Can you think of additional metaphors or similes to describe the subjects above?

Rhetorical Question and Hypophora

Rhetorical questions are questions with obvious answers that are implied and not stated. Indeed, these unspoken answers typically consist of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The purpose of rhetorical questions is to emphasize the implied point and add interesting linguistic variety to an essay dominated by direct assertions. It should be emphasized that an essay with a refreshing style usually utilizes diverse sentence structures, and mixing statements and questions helps achieve that. Finally, rhetorical questions could provoke the reader and stimulate curiosity and interest.

Hypophora are questions that are directly answered, and often at some length, by the writer or speaker. Like rhetorical questions, the use of hypophora adds linguistic variety and provokes greater interest. Hypophora is also a readily usable transitional device that helps us to begin paragraphs or initiate new discussions.


To introduce new materials or start a new paragraph/discussion


How then, in the middle of the twentieth century, are we to define the obligation of the historian to his facts?..... The duty of the historian to respect his facts is not exhausted by . . . .

But it is certainly possible to ask, How hot is the oven at its hottest point, when the average temperature is 425 degrees? We learned that the peak temperatures approached . . . .

But what are the implications of this theory? And how can it be applied to the present problem? Indeed…

How and why did caveat emptor develop? The question presents us with mysteries never fully answered.

There is a striking and basic difference between a man's ability to imagine something and an animal's failure. . . . Where is it that the animal falls short? We get a clue to the answer, I think, when Hunter tells us . . . .

Rhetorical Questions

Is this the end to which we are reduced? Is the disaster film the highest form of art we can expect from our era? [The implied answer is no] Perhaps we should examine the alternatives presented by independent film

I agree the funding and support are still minimal, but shouldn't worthy projects be tried, even though they are not certain to succeed? [The implied answer is no] So the plans in effect now should be expanded to include . . . .

To develop a paragraph through a series of rhetorical questions or hypophora

Sometimes we can string together a series of questions to develop an interesting paragraph. Like figurative language, such unusual constructions can break the monotony of the essay but should not be overused.


How do we know the FTC strategy is the best, particularly in view of the complaints consumerists have made against it? Isn't there some chance that greater penalties would amount to greater deterrents? Why not get the most consumer protection simultaneously with the most punishment to offenders by easing the requirements for guilt without easing the punishment? . . . It happens that that's been tried, and it didn't work very well.

Rhetorical Question

We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless the firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?


Read “Four-Letter Words Can Hurt You” by Barbara Lawrence. The first two paragraphs contain a series of questions—analyze whether they are rhetorical questions or hypophora. As an added exercise, notice that Lawrence does not generally employ such devices after her first two paragraphs. Could you transform some of her statements to add one rhetorical question/hypophora to each paragraph?

Do note that while this exercise helps you to practice constructing rhetorical questions/hypophora, it is arguable whether such profuse use of questions necessarily entails a better essay. Moderation is key.

Appeal to Authority

One of the easiest ways to appeal to authority is to quote from experts and authorities in the relevant field. Be sure you introduce the authority if he or she is not well known. For example, the following statement would be dubious:

“According to Dr Johnson, malaria is a disease of the poor.”

You need to introduce Dr Johnson!

“According to Dr Johnson, a researcher at John Hopkins University [a leading medical institute in the US—this should be known to your audience], malaria is a disease of the poor.”

Be sure your authority is indeed an authority in the field you are discussing. Quoting Einstein to support your views on physics or science in general would be sound; quoting him to support your views on education is possible but somewhat more dubious. Quoting him to support your views on an ideal vacation, or the projected economic growth of Singapore, would be fallacious.

You can also quote from the generally accepted canon of “authoritative writings”, like the Bible, the “Analects” of Confucius, the Koran, the writings of Plato and Aristotle and Hindu Scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita.

However, do note that just because the Bible or the Analects or the Koran say something in your favor does not indubitably ‘prove’ your claim. Such quotations can add variety to your essay (you don’t have to quote mundane authorities all the time) and an appealing ‘aura’ of hallowed tradition and wisdom. But unless your claim is about strictly religious or philosophical questions, quotations from authoritative writings are rarely strong supports.


Analyze how Martin Luther King uses a variety of methods to appeal effectively to authority in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Discuss the thesis—the main persuasive point—of the Letter. Beyond quoting from various authorities, usually religious figures from the Bible (why is this so? Can you connect this to King’s purpose and audience?), notice how King uses other methods to appeal to authority. For instance, he uses the actions of authoritative figures as worthy antecedents (he is following in their footsteps) or employs them as authoritative and interesting analogies. He also appeals to the values and heritage of America.

Also discuss how King quietly builds up and appeals to his own authority. A student writer with few credentials might find it difficult to apply such techniques.

Final Activity

Take one of your old essays and redraft it by incorporating the 6 rhetorical devices: parallelism/antithesis, descriptions, rhetorical questions/hypophora and appeal to authority.


Online References:

Silva Rhetoricae. Brigham Young University. 20 November 2007. .

A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices. 20 November 2007.

Readings and Exercises from:

Clause, Barbara Fine. Patterns for a Purpose: A Rhetorical Reader. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2003.

Langan, John and Janet M. Goldstein. English Brushup. Boston : McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2003.

Schwegler, Robert A. Patterns of Exposition. New York: Pearson, Longman, 2004.

Compiled by Jared Quek 2007

Sample Speech:


Spot and name all the rhetorical devices you can find in the speech below

Avi Gurion’s Address to the Parliament of Salem, 15th August 2020.

It is 2020 and you are the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Salem. Much of the region has fallen to a racist and ruthless neo-Nazi power, and they stand ready to invade your country.

An agent from the foreign invader assassinated the Prime Minister hours ago. You must make a short speech of at least 300 words to the Salem Parliament to convince them that you are the best person to lead the country in this crisis, and that they should vote for you so that you may become the new Prime Minister.

The following are some facts on Salem:

Population: 11 million, 60% Jewish, 30% Arabs, 10% others
Military strength: Above average with advanced technology
Main Allies: United States and the European Union
Economy: Strong economy with many high technology companies

Your speech must include the following (not in any particular order):

1) Your credentials and past leadership experiences
2) Your qualities that make you suitable as a war leader
3) A summary of the situation and threat faced by Salem
4) Why it is important for Salem to resist and not surrender
5) Your policies and plans that will lead to victory

You are reminded to use a formal register and diverse rhetorical devices.

Your Excellency, President Rabin, honored members of the House and fellow
citizens of Salem, I stand before you with dire news.

(Point 3) Three hours ago, our revered leader, Prime Minister Ahijah Peres, fell by a traitor’s blade—a treacherous stroke conceived and delivered by the secret services of our enemy. Three hours ago, the Aryan Reich has declared war. Three hours ago, bombs have started falling on the cities of Salem.

Where peace once reigned, consuming storms of fire and night now rage. As I speak, 10 murderous Nazi divisions comprising 3000 tanks and 200,000 cybernetic infantry are sweeping across the frontiers of Salem. An armada of 300 warships is fiercely arrayed in our seas, choking off commerce and all aid.

Extinction—the uttermost destruction of all that we love, and all that we have fought for and still fights for, stands before us.

(Point 4) But we must not be afraid.

We recall in this lonely hour our ancient and incomparable heritage. Salem has always faced impossible odds. We have built a nation resplendent with spirit, knowledge, power and wealth in a region teeming with implacable enemies. We have fought 7 wars over the centuries to preserve our civilization, our lives and our very souls. Through the dark nights of history, the flame of truth and justice proclaimed by our Prophets has fired us to strive adamantine and strong against unceasing adversaries.

We have triumphed, and against this vile arrogant invader, we will triumph again.

Comrades, I remind you that victory and nothing less can save Salem from bloodthirsty insanity. The Aryan Reich is a fanatic arm of their infernal emperor—and he has mandated the complete destruction of all ‘inferior’ races. Without victory, where once proud glory, flaming courage and a foremost nation stood, there will only be a ruined, soulless emptiness purged by a clinical and desolate efficiency.

(Point 1) As Defense Minister, I have led the armed forces through the last war. With the help of my generals, we have built up a force supreme in power, versatility and technology. We are thus the last Power in the region still unconquered, still pegged firm, still preventing the dark design of the Reich from bearing its fatal fruits. In addition, I was also the head of the Salem Intelligence Agency (SIA), and am well versed in the byzantine arts of espionage and counter-espionage. Our foe is one who weaves the shadows, and is cunning, willing and expert in executing the worst and most terrible schemes. The death of our Prime Minister is testimony enough. Against our serpentine foe, we will need to be ourselves ‘as wise as serpents’. I offer myself therefore as the one most suitable candidate in this dire hour to succeed our Prime Minister.

(Point 2) Those who know me will recognize the most important quality all of us need now—the faith and love that blight the darkness. Born into the poverty and beauty of rural Salem, "tempered by wars and disciplined by a hard and bitter peace", I have loved Salem from my youth and served her as a soldier, a general, a Minister and a son. From this soil was I born, and to this soil I intend to return—a free man, and not a slave! Indeed, it was the love of freedom that brought our forebears to this Promised Land. And this love burns in me, burns in all of us still. It is this love, this faith, this strength, this overpowering flame that will cause us to go forth and overthrow our enemies!

(Point 5) And go forth we will. For we will strike, and strike massively, with an iron thrust into the throats of our overstretched enemies. Yes, they have crossed our borders with ease; but that is our intention. Even now, our numerous elite forces have landed securely behind the frontlines in familiar territories—a coiled serpent ready to explode in venomous fury when our land and air divisions unleash their rain of righteous fury, fire and death. Two implacable walls of death shall crush the foul Nazi army, leaving none alive

At the same time, we recognize that we may be able to save this land with our swords, but we lack the power to destroy the heartlands of the Nazi empire. And without doing so, the battle may be won, but not the war. We need our allies, the United States and Europe to come to our aid. Currently they too are fighting against the Neo-Nazi empire and their allies. If we can inflict a terrible defeat on the Aryan Reich, it will help the Alliance and buy us precious time, till the forces of freedom finally emerge victorious.

Till then, we must hold on, accepting any sacrifice and paying any price. I hope you will accept me as the leader who will lead you in this finest hour.