Rhetoric Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use it

If you’re looking to learn the meaning of rhetoric— you’re in the right place. Read on to get the full scoop on rhetoric and its meaning today.

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From the news and social media to morning conversations with your next-door neighbor, words are everywhere. They are the strongest form of communication we have. Simply put, words are important. 

That said, seeing as there are well over half-a-million words in the English language, chances are there are a few that you may not understand, like rhetoric.  

Rhetoric is a word with more than one meaning, so it can be a little confusing, but don’t worry — we’re here to help. 

In this post, we’re exploring the term rhetoric to uncover its definition, origin, synonyms, antonyms, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Rhetoric?

The noun rhetoric (pronounced ˈrɛtərɪk) broadly refers to the uses and study of written visual and spoken language. 

With that being said, rhetoric has a few meanings. But don’t take our word for it. Check out these definitions provided by a few respectable English language Dictionaries listed below:

  • As stated in the Cambridge Dictionary, rhetoric can be defined as a clever language that may sound good but has no real meaning and is generally insincere. 
  • Collins Dictionary defines rhetoric as writing or speaking that is intended to persuade. 

Generally speaking, advertisers creating catchy slogans to get us to buy their products or a politician delivering a rallying cry in an attempt to inspire others are both fine examples of rhetoric.

Synonyms and Antonyms of Rhetoric

To further your understanding of the word rhetoric, let’s review some synonyms and antonyms:

Synonyms of rhetoric include:

  • Hyperbole
  • Address
  • Balderdash
  • Pomposity
  • Public speaking
  • Bombast
  • Composition
  • Fluency
  • Oratory
  • Wind
  • Grandiosity
  • Bragging
  • Big talk
  • Speech
  • Flowery language
  • Monotone
  • Verbiage
  • Elocution
  • Discourse

Antonyms of rhetoric include:

  • Quiet
  • Conciseness
  • Silence
  • Standard
  • Calm
  • Inarticulation
  • Mispronouncement
  • Dullness
  • Inability
  • Weakness
  • Incompetence

How Can the Word Rhetoric Be Used in a Sentence?

With its broad definition, the word rhetoric can be used in various different ways in a sentence, so be sure to always use context clues to not confuse your audience. Now that we have a better understanding of what rhetoric means, let’s review a few example sentences:

Were you aware that Plato once said, “rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of others?

Now they may have persuasion in common, but rhetoric and a simple argument have far different meanings.

That is really a good point; ungrounded rhetoric really does so little, it’s best to avoid it.

What Is the Origin of Rhetoric?

Rhetoric began well over 2500 years ago as the study of all forms of argument and communication essential to life in Ancient Greece. As times change, words change — so their definitions can vary. 

Etymology is the study of the origins of words and how their definitions may or may not have changed throughout time. Essentially, it is the historical development of the word and its meaning.

With its first noted use of Middle English rhetorik of in the early 14th century. — from the Greek rhētorikē — this meant the aptitude for using language to influence others. These words came fromthe  feminine of rhētorikos meaning an orator; from Old French rethorique, retorike and directly from Latin rhetoric. These in turn stems from the Greek rhētorikētekhnē or “art of an orator” from eirein meaning to speak or say.

The Rhetorical Triangle

The Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle wrote “The Art of Rhetoric,” in which he defines rhetoric as an ability to discover the available means of persuasion. 

As he outlined in his teachings, Aristotle believed that a speaker’s ability to persuade others could be aptly based upon how well the speaker can appeal to an audience in three different areas: pathos, logos, and ethos.

These three “modes of persuasion” would be later coined by rhetoricians as the rhetorical triangle. With each of the three modes appealing to a different part of the human psyche an attempt to influence them on multiple levels.

  • Logos: This appeals to the reason and logic of an individual, relying on the content of the message to support its claims. 
  • Pathos: Used to tug on the heartstrings of others and establish an emotional connection with the audience.
  • Ethos: This mode of rhetoric relies solely on the reputation of the individual delivering the speech or message.

What Is a Rhetorical Device?

Rhetorical devices are tools a person can utilize to manipulate language and to construct arguments. 

There is a wide range of literary devices and even stylistic techniques one can use to create a rhetorical effect. Below we have included a few key examples to get a better understanding of these rhetorical devices:

  • Rhetorical questions
  • Hyperbole
  • Eutrepismus
  • Chiasmus

Examples of Rhetoric in Historical Speeches and Literature

When a person presents a persuasive argument, all while taking into consideration the medium, the audience as well as the purpose of the message, they are creating a rhetorical situation. Some of the most well-known examples include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”
  • William Shakespeare’s Richard III.
  • Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”


In conclusion, rhetoric is the art form of persuasion through communication, while originally used exclusively in fifth-century Athens in public speaking, today it is used in both spoken and written communication.

The word rhetoric comes from the Greek word rhetorikos which literally means oratory — aka, the art of speaking in public not only effectively but eloquently.

Rhetoric – Language meticulously molded to persuade, inform or motivate.


  1. RHETORIC | definition in | Cambridge English Dictionary
  2. The Rhetorical Triangle: Understanding and Using Logos, Ethos, and Pathos | LSU
  3. Rhetoric definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary