10-second review: “Rhetoric” is one of those slippery terms that can mean almost anything to anybody, so that when authors use the term in professional publications in English, one has to first define its meaning before one can understand the author’s message. It can mean anything from simply communication, to emphasis on purpose and audience to persuasion. The latter is the most agreed-upon meaning.
Summary: Rhetoric is most often defined as persuasion and the study of the methods of persuasion. Rhetoric can also refer to those who are pretentious in using language or can refer to someone who uses apparently fine language that doesn’t mean anything.
Comment: The topic came up in my reading the English Journal issue for March 2010, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This issue of the journal was devoted to teaching nonfiction in secondary classrooms. Several articles used the term “rhetoric” with different meanings, from emphasis on purpose and audience (“rhetorical reading”) to persuasion (propaganda and critical reading). RayS.