Rhetorical Tools List

Example of 75 very popular and useful rhetorical tools

For further information elsewhere on Rhetorical Tools, see also Silvae Rhetoricae at http://rhetoric.byu.edu/, and http://grammar.about.com.


Repetition of initial consonant sound in successive words (see also anaphora). Figure of emphasis that occurs through the repetition of initial consonant letters (or sounds) in two or more different words across successive sentences, clauses, or phrases. 

Two kinds may be distinguished:

  • Immediate juxtaposition occurs when the second consonant sound follows right after the first — back-to-back.
  • Non-immediate juxtaposition occurs when the consonants occur in non-adjacent words.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • Location, Location, Location.
  • Piss Poor Preparation Produces Poor Presentations.
  • “Somewhere at this very moment a child is being born in America. Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy family and a hopeful” Bill Clinton, 1992 Democratic National Convention Acceptance Address.


Figure of explication (i.e. transforms an inexact pre-scientific concept into exact scientific one) using a brief or casual reference to a famous person, historical event, place, or work of art. It is important to stress that the referent of an allusion be generally well-known. Sources include history, myth, and the Bible. Contemporary instances of allusion extend to media created content, events, and persons, even to the extent that a character in one movie may use an allusion in referring to a fictional, but nonetheless well-known, event or person from another movie. Popular music lyrics are a further source of allusion.

  • “Dr Wilmet is the Henry Ford of the biotech century”. Jeremy Rifkin, the Biotech Century. (Note: Dr Wilmet cloned Dolly the Sheep.)


Repetition of the last word or phrase of one line or clause to begin the next.

  • “Fear leads to  Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
  • Strengthening the defense of our island is  Vital because there is a clear and present danger.
  • “Without a healthy economy we can’t have a healthy society, and without a healthy society the economy won’t stay healthy for long.” Margaret Thatcher, from ‘The lady’s not for turning’ speech.


Reasoning or arguing from parallel cases. A kind of extended metaphor or long simile in which an explicit comparison is made between two things (events, ideas, people, etc.) for the purpose of furthering a line of reasoning or drawing an in ference; a form of reasoning employing comparative or parallel cases.

  • “I don’t think there is anything certainly more unseemly than the sight of a rock star in academic robes. It’s a bit like when people put their King Charles Spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats. It’s not natural. And it doesn’t make the dog any smarter!” Bono, 2004 Commencement Address at The University of Pennsylvania.
  • “A street light is like a star. Both provide light at night, both are in predictable locations.”
  • “I am to writing what Donald Duck is to public speaking”
  • “The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination, but where the combination is locked up in the safe.


Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.

  • “I have a dream…I have a dream….I have a dream.” Said 8 times in 1 speech. Martin Luther King, Washington, 28th August 1963.
  • “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
  • I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.” Raymond Chandler.
  • “Elections can be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates” Winston Churchill.


The use of a short story to illustrate a point, often with humour, usually with relevance to the main theme. See also ‘parable’.


A figure of addition that occurs when a concluding sentence, clause, or phrase is added to a statement which purposely diminishes the effect of what has been previously stated.

  • “This year’s space budget is three times what is was in January 1961. And it is greater than the space budget of the previous 8 years combined. That budget now stands at five billion four hundred million dollars a year, a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year.John F Kennedy, Rice University address on space exploration, 12th September 1962.


An abrupt shift from a noble tone to a less exalted one – often for comic effect.

  • “For King, for country, and for a fiver” (this is also an Anaphora)
  • “You can always rely on the French, when they need you most.”
  • “In moments of crisis I size up the situation in a flash, set my teeth, contract my muscles, take a firm grip on myself and, without a tremor, always do the wrong thing.”


Figure of emphasis in which the words in one phrase or clause are replicated, exactly or closely, in reverse grammatical order in the next phrase or clause; an inverted order of repeated words in adjacent phrases or clauses (A-B, B-A). Also known as a Chiasmus.

“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” John F Kennedy Inaugural address, 1961. 


Juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.

  • Action, not words
  • Out of sight, out of mind (also an Anaphora)
  • Penny wise, pound foolish
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”


A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion. (2) A brief statement of a principle.

  • “Lost time is never found again.”
  • “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
  • “If you do the same thing, expect the same result.”
  • “Time only goes forwards”
  • “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.”
  • “If you knew; if age could” (from Henri Estienne, aka Henry Stephens, a 16th Century Aphorist)
  • “Age knows, and age can” (Prof. David Starkey, BBC, October 2018).


Figure in which the speaker abruptly stops or falls short of completing a statement; stopping short of completing a statement.

  • “The reason for having two missile keys is so that no one man may…..” From the movie ‘The Hunt for Red October’.


Figure of addition in which words are placed side by side (in apposition to) each other with one word describing or clarifying the other; adjacent nouns or noun substitutes with one elaborating the other.

  • “I’m elated by the knowledge that for the first time in our history a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, will be recommended to share our ticket” Jesse Jackson, at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Assonance (Rhyme)

Figure of repetition in which different words with the same or similar vowel sounds occur successively in words with different consonants; two or more words with similar vowel sounds sandwiched between different consonants.

  • “Our flag is red, white and blue. But our nation is rainbow. Red, yellow, brown, black and white, we’re all precious in God’s sight.” Jesse Jackson, 1984 Democratic National Convention Address.


Figure of omission in which normally occurring conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) are intentionally omitted in successive phrases, or clauses; a string of words not separated by normally occurring conjunctions.

  • “The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly. And it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed stats, diffuseBarack Obama, West Point Speech.


Figure of association in which a highly unusual or outlandish comparison is made between two things. This figure moves beyond a metaphor by degrees; the language used for comparative purposes is strikingly at odds with conventional usage.

  • The President’s decision to develop the hydrogen bomb has placed us on a knife edge of history” Henry M Jackson


A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed (much the same as an Antimetabole).

  • “John said little and knew much; Mark knew nothing and spoke a lot.”
  • “Nice to see you, to see you, nice!” Bruce Forsyth, BBC presenter.
  • “You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
  • “In the end, the true test is not the speeches a president delivers; it’s whether the president delivers on the speeches.”

“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”


Figure of repetition in which words or phrases or sentences are arranged in order of increasing intensity or importance, often in parallel construction; words or phrases arranged by degrees of increasing significance.

  • “From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on good earth.” Frank Borman, Astronaut.

Comparison / contrast

Exploring the similarities and/or differences between things or ideas. Often emphasises the juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas.

  • “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues” – Abraham Lincoln


Figure of repetition in which the key word or words in one phrase, clause, or sentence is/are repeated at or very near the beginning of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases; repetition of a key word over successive phrases or clauses.

  • “This afternoon in this room I testified before the Office of Independent Council and the Grand Jury. I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life. Questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.” Bill Clinton
  • “We are in a deadly competition. A competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking. We’re ahead in this competition Senator Kennedy as I think has implied. But when you’re in a race, the only way to stay ahead is to move ahead.” Richard M. Nixon, Opening Statement, First Debate with John F. Kennedy.

Counter argument (ah yes… but)

A contrasting, opposing or refuting argument or set of reasons put forward to compare with a premise, idea, thesis or theory developed in another argument, whether put by you or someone else. Often, they will be structured as a (counter) thesis, with evidence in support of the thesis.

  • “Doing these things won’t be easy. But we’re Americans. We’ve met tough challenges before. And we can again.” Barack Obama ending his 2-minute TV advert “Plan for Change” on 17 Sept 2008.
  • ““Some say he never blinks, and that he roams around the woods at night foraging for wolves. All we know is he’s called The Stig” Jeremy Clarkson on BBC’s Top Gear Series 6, Episode 1,22nd May 2005.


Figure of repetition in the same word or phrase occurs on either side of an intervening word or phrase; word/phrase x, word/phrase Y, word/phrase x.

  • “The people everywhere, not just here in Britain, everywhere, they kept faith with Princess Diana.” Tony Blair.
  • We read, incredible it seems, we read of survivors struggling in the water”. Peter Marshall (on the Titanic tragedy).


Figure of explanation in which an introductory reference to a word’s meaning is made (e.g., “by x I mean”, “which is to say that”, “that is”) followed by a further elaboration of that word’s meaning; explicit definition of or elaboration upon the meaning or meanings of a particular word or set of words.

  • First I should define my terms, Man and God. By Man I mean society, social man”. Timothy Leary, LSD, methods of control.


Omission of one or more words, which must be supplied by the listener or reader.

  • “The best remedy … is to get enough sleep.”
  • “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools… because they have to say something.”
  • “Some people go to priests; others… to poetry; I …to my friends.”
  • “There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we… them.”


A figure of reasoning in which one or more statements of a syllogism (a three-pronged deductive argument) is/are left out of the configuration; an abbreviated syllogism or truncated deductive argument in which one or more premises, or, the conclusion is/are omitted. There are various kinds of syllogisms and the formal treatment of them is rather technical. However, all syllogisms are similar in that they contain at least three statements — two premises followed by a conclusion.

  • “If the gloves didn’t fit, you must acquit. (major premise).The gloves didn’t fit. (minor premise). You must acquit.” (conclusion) Johnny Cochran, Closing arguments of the O.J. Simpson trial.
  • “Those who love [America] and love her people want to serve as President. (major premise). I love this country and its people. (minor premise). I want(ed) to serve as President.” (conclusion). Jimmy Carter, 1980 Concession Address.


Figure of amplification in which a subject is divided into constituent parts or details, and
may include a listing of causes, effects, problems, solutions, conditions, and consequences; the listing or detailing of the parts of something.

  • “Since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, the have taught in our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they have won Nobel prizes, built our tallest building and lit the Olympic torch.” Barack Obama, Speech at Cairo University.


Figure of emphasis in which the same word or words both begin(s) and end(s) a phrase, clause, or sentence; beginning and ending a phrase or clause with the same word or words.

  • A minimum wage that is not a liveable wage can never be a minimum wageRalph Nadar


A figure of speech, in which the sentence begins and ends with the same word. Epanadiplosis’ derives from Ancient Greek, meaning “to make double”.

  • “Nice to see you; to see you nice!”. Bruce Forsyth’s catchphrase as BBC host of the programme ‘The Generation Game’.


A Figure of repetition that occurs when the last word or set of words in one sentence, clause or phrase is repeated one or more times at the end of successive sentences, clauses or phrases.

  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish” Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address, 1863.


Very common figure that uses an adjective or adjectival phrase to characterize a person,
 thing, attribute, or quality; the use of a qualifying word or phrase to further describe something
(e.g., “fun ride,”  “bad omen,” “cheerful giver,” “good and decent man”)

  • “Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school, because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child’s dreams.” Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize speech


Figure of emphasis in which the same word (or words) is repeated two or more times over in immediate succession; repetition of the same word, word, word….

“It’s time for more than just tough talk. Just like you — probably just so tired of hearing the talk, talk, talk. Tired of hearing the talk.” Sarah Palin, Tea Party Convention Keynote Speech.


Persuasive appeal based on the projected character of the speaker or narrator. According to Aristotle, the chief components of a compelling ethos are good will, practical wisdom, and virtue

  • “To do the right thing.”
  • “The personality of the orator outweighs the issues.”
  • “Our four statutory objectives are supported by a set of principles of good regulation that we must have regard to when discharging our functions.”


Figure used to transform an unpleasant, distasteful or repulsive expression into more socially acceptable terms. Substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit. Contrast with Dysphemism: The substitution of a more offensive or disparaging word or phrase by one considered less offensive.

A term that describes the male or female genitalia: Lady bits, gentleman sausage…

Or being sacked: I feel very terrible about what I’m about to say. But I’m afraid you’re both being let go.

Or tearing someone’s clothing: “a wardrobe malfunction”

  • “During the Cold War of 1946-89, NATO had a deterrent (euphemism) against the Russian threat (dysphemism). In the mid 1980s the USSR claimed to have been invited into Afghanistan; the Americans claimed that the Russians were aggressors
  • “We’re going to steal the ship. Our ship. Commandeer, we’re going to commandeer that ship, nautical term”. Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean.


Facts, documentation, or testimony used to strengthen a claim or reach a conclusion. Anecdotal evidence is a weaker variety of evidence. See also GPB’s Evidence Hierarchy.

  • “When conducting empirical research, the researcher’s primary responsibility is to provide evidence to support his or her claim about the relationship between the variables described in the research hypothesis. The researcher must collect data that will convince us of the accuracy of his or her predictions”.
  • The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.” Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, 1929.

Exemplum (example)

Figure of amplification using an example, brief or extended, real or fictitious, to illustrate a point; an example.

“We need more funding for research. Right now, for example, more than a quarter of a million people have a spinal injury.” Christopher Reeve, former Superman, 1996.


Figure of emphasis in which a single word or short phrase, usually interrupting normal speech, is used to lend emphasis to the words on either side of the expletive. Typical examples include: in fact, of course, to be sure, indeed, I suppose, I hope, I think, you know, you see, clearly, in any event, in effect, certainly, remarkably.

  • “The minimum wage, I might add, today, is far less today that in it was in 1960 and 1970 in terms of purchasing power.” Ralph Nadar, 2000 NAACP address.

Freudian Slip (aka Papapraxis)

An unintentional or accidental error in speech, writing, memory or action which is thought to reveal the subconscious truth. Named after the Austrian Dr. Sigmund Freud, who wrote about these accidents in his 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday life’. Scientists have shown that stress increases the chance of these accidents happening, as does the opportunity to complete a sentence with whatever is on the mind at the time. The errors have been shown to occur on average about 1-2 x per 1,000 words.

  • We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex.. uh.. setbacks.”George W Bush
  • Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breastand brightest.” Senator Ted Kennedy, on TV. He even cupped his hands in the air whilst saying the word ‘breast’.
  • As I was telling my husb—as I was telling President Bush.”Senator Condoleezza Rice.
  • “We not only saved the world, er, saved the banks…” PM Gordon Brown, at PMQs in the House of Commons.
  • “We’re raising money for the rich” PM David Cameron, at PMQs in the House of Commons.


An extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.

  • “I’ve told you a million times not to do that.”
  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
  • “You could be Miss Universe.”
  • “You’re always doing that.”
  • “I’ve been waiting for hours to be served.”


Figure of reasoning in which one or more questions is/are asked and then answered, often at length, by one and the same speaker; raising and responding to one’s own question(s).

“What is George Bush doing about our economic problems? He has raised taxes on the people driving pick-up trucks, and lowered the taxes on the people riding in limousines!” Bill Clinton

Irony (Illusio)

Use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. A statement or situation where the meaning is directly contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.

  • “That was a brilliant idea, Baldrick.” Rowan Atkinson as Lord Black Adder
  • “A Nebraska teenager – dressed as a mobile breathalysing unit for a Halloween party – was pulled over on his way home and arrested for drink-driving.”
  • “If you have a phobia of long words you have to tell people that you have Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.”
  • “There is a song about the phobia of music”
  • “A domestic violence prosecutor in the US has recently been charged with domestic violence.”
  • “Bears are actually hairy”
  • “An iron lung isn’t made of iron and doesn’t look like a lung.”
  • “Drink Red Rock. It ain’t red and it ain’t made of rocks”


An understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.

  • I was not a little upset.
  • “We are not amused.”
  • “My five-year-old daughter could do that, and she’s not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed.”
  • Not a bad day’s work; could have been worse
  • “Keep an eye on your mother whom we both know doesn’t have both oars in the water.”


In classical rhetoric, the means of persuasion by demonstration of the truth, real or apparent.

  • “Socrates is a carrot, all carrots are orange, therefore Socrates is orange.”
  • “If you drink too much, you could crash your car and die”
  • “If you don’t wear a seat beat, you increase the risk of injury in a crash”
  • “Flying is safer than driving or walking across a road.”

Malapropism (see also Spoonerisms)

The accidental use of one or more words or sounds in place of another/others, often nonsensical, and/or with (unintended) humorous effect. Named after Mrs Malaprop, a character in the 1775 Sheridan play ”The Rivals”, although these accidents occurred before then, e.g. Shakespeare’s Dogberry character in ‘Much ado about nothing’.

  • “One word, sir. Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehendedtwo aspicious persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship.” (Apprehended and suspicious, Dogberry
  • “He is the very pine-appleof politeness!” (pinnacle) “…promise to forget this fellow – to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” (obliterate, both from Mrs Malaprop)
  • “Dancing the flamingo” (Flamenco)

“Texas has a lot of electrical votes (Electoral, Source: Yogi Berra)

Metaphor (see also simile)

An implied analogy or comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. If ‘like’ or ‘as’ are used, the device is a Simile, not a metaphor, as the comparison has been made explicit.

  • All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.
  • Drowning in debt
  • John is a real pig when he eats
  • My wife is a rock
  • The committee shot his ideas down one by one
  • She broke into my conversation and was wearing very loud clothing
  • The police have dug up enough evidence to convict the phone hackers
  • If you’re going to learn a foreign language, you may as well make sure it’s really foreign, like Russian…or Welsh.


A word, name, or expression that we can use as a shorthand or substitute for something else that it is closely associated with. New metonyms are created and become commonly used as each new entity becomes better known.

  • “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Winston Churchill.
  • ‘Given a P45’ is used for being made redundant, ‘10 Downing Street’ is used for the UK Prime Minister and the UK Government, and similarly ‘Washington’ for the US Government.

Mixaphor, Miniphor and Maxiphor

Mixaphors are mixed metaphors. “We thought outside the box and that helped us to hit the ground running”

Miniphors (copyright GPB 2014) are the little metaphors that people use to explain something they said. Several different miniphors can be used in the same speech or document without ill effect as their purpose is ring-fenced. “If you can brief me in advance I can hit the ground running”

Maxiphors (copyright GPB 2014) are the major metaphors that run through an entire speech or document, and are cross-referenced several times, at least at the start and end. They do not mix well with other miniphors.


The formation or use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.

  • Meiaou, woof woof, choo choo went the train. slam, hiss, bash, snap, buzz, screech, whirr, crush, sizzle, crunch, gouge, grind, mangle, bang, pow, zap and fizz.


A figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.

  • Deafening silence
  • A wise fool
  • Bitter sweet
  • Cruel kindness


A short and simple story that illustrates a lesson. Very similar to a fable (e.g. Aesop’s fables).

  • “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”


A statement that appears to contradict itself.

  • I know that I know nothing
  • The wise fool
  • Excusable negligence
  • Which came first, chicken or egg?
  • The swiftest traveller is he who travels afoot
  • “War is peace.” “Freedom is slavery.” “Ignorance is strength.”
  • The literature of the so-called ‘dead tongues’ holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper


Emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it. It can be a form of irony.

  • “It would be unkind to dwell on the size of his bunion.”
  • “Let’s not get bogged down in the detail of this incredibly complex but highly efficient process.”
  • “I could talk about our great revenues; I could talk about our strong profits; but instead I want to talk about dividends.”


Figure of balance identified by a similarity in the syntactical structure of a set of words in successive phrases, clauses, sentences; successive words, phrases, clauses with the same or very similar grammatical structure. This figure often occurs in public addresses with others such as antithesis, anaphora, asyndeton, climax, epistrophe and symploce.

  • Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty. John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address.


Figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.

  • Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  • “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.”
  • “Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.”
  • “If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.”
  • “We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.”
  • “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
  • “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie” – Margaret Thatcher on William Whitelaw, Leader of the House of Lords.


The means of persuasion in classical rhetoric that appeals to the audience’s emotions.

  • “Try something different today.” (Sainsbury strapline)
  • “Just do it!” (Nike’s strapline)
  • Clinton’s voice began to waver and crack when she said: ‘It’s not easy. . . . This is very personal for me.”
  • “Emotions can be an electoral trump card, especially if one can show them as Mrs Clinton did, without tears. The key is to appear stirred without appearing weak.”


The closing part of an argument, often with a summary and an appeal to logos, ethos, or pathos.

  • “And therefore I conclude that this is the best course of action.”
  • “My colleagues, we have an obligation to our citizens, we have an obligation to this body to see that our resolutions are complied with. We wrote 1441 not in order to go to war, we wrote 1441 to try to preserve the peace. We wrote 1441 to give Iraq one last chance. Iraq is not so far taking that one last chance.”
  • “We must not shrink from whatever is ahead of us. We must not fail in our duty and our responsibility to the citizens of the countries that are represented by this body.”
  • “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” Winston Churchill, 4 June 1940.


Figure which represents abstractions or inanimate objects with human qualities, including physical, emotional, and spiritual; the application of human attributes or abilities to nonhuman entities.

  • “The heart of America is heavy; the spirit of America is ” Lyndon Baines Johnson.


Figure of addition and emphasis which intentionally employs a series of conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) not normally found in successive words, phrases, or clauses; the deliberate and excessive use of conjunctions in successive words or clauses.

We must change that dematerious environment of the 80s. That environment which was characterised by greed and hatred and selfishness and mega mergers and debt overhang.” Barbara Jordan, 1992 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address.

Proverb (see also antithesis)

Short, pithy statement of a general truth, one that condenses common experience into memorable form.

  • Out of sight, out of mind
  • Penny wise, pound foolish
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • To walk a thousand miles you start with the first step; Time heals all wounds
  • Do unto others as you would they do unto you
  • The tallest trees catch the most wind (This is Dutch and not widely known outside of Holland)


A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.

  • A man’s home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
  • A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumour.
  • Dieting is a matter of life and breadth.
  • I considered going into the ministry but I didn’t have an altar ego.
  • Speaking ill of the dead is a grave mistake.
  • I used to be a banker, but lost interest in the work.
  • I used to be a baker, but I didn’t make enough dough.
  • I used to be a blackjack host, but was offered a better deal.
  • I used to work for Budweiser, but then I got canned.
  • I used to be a butler, but found the work wasn’t my cup of tea.
  • I used to be a carpenter, but then I got bored.


A form of evidence using actual words spoken by someone else, usually famous, in authority or position of respect, to assist with the clarity or persuasiveness of an argument or counterargument.

  • “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.” Warren Buffet
  • It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. Mark Twain

Refutation (of a counterargument)

The part of an argument where a speaker/writer anticipates and counters opposing points of view.

  • I know it won’t be easy, but we’re Americans.  Barack Obama, Election 2008 campaign video

Rhetorical canons

In classical rhetoric, the five (or seven if you count the later additions at the start end of the list) overlapping divisions of the rhetorical process are:

  1. Intellectio – think about your content and audience
  2. Inventio – brainstorm your content
  3. Dispositio – structure your content and arguments
  4. Elocutio – pick the best words to say
  5. Memoria – create prompts to remind you what to say (script, notes, visuals)
  6. Actio – deliver
  7. Analytico – questions and debrief

Rhetorical question

A question asked merely for effect with no answer expected.

  • “So what do we all think of that?”
  • “Who would have thought that John Major would win an election?”

Scesis Onomaton

Figure of repetition in which a set of two or more different words having the same (or very nearly the same) meaning occurs within the same sentence; a successive series of words or phrases whose meanings are generally equivalent.

Mr. Praline: “’E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e  rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”  Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch


An expressed analogy or comparison (usually formed with “like” or “as”) between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.

  • As bright as a star in the sky; as useless as a chocolate teapot.”
  • “He was as graceful as a fridge falling down a flight of stairs”
  • “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”


Figure of argument in which a wise, witty, or pithy maxim or aphorism is used to sum up the preceding material.

  • “The lesson we have to learn is that our dislike for certain persons does not give us any right to whinge over fellow creatures. The social rule must be: Live and let live. George Bernard Shaw

Spoonerism (see also Malapropisms)

An error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or any small unit of language (a morpheme) are switched (see metathesis) between two words in a phrase. After Revd William Spooner, who committed a number of these errors.

  • “Three cheers for our queerold dean!” (dear old queen, a reference to Queen Victoria)
  • “The Lord is a shoving leopard(a loving shepherd)
  • “A lackof pies” (pack of lies)
  • “She very much enjoyed fast passion(past fashion)
  • “Is it kisstomaryto cuss the bride?” (customary to kiss)
  • “A blushing crow(crushing blow)
  • “It’s roaringwith pain” (pouring with rain)
  • “A well-boiled icicle(well-oiled bicycle)
  • “You were fightingliar in the quadrangle” (lighting a fire)
  • “Is the bean dizzy?”(Dean busy)
  • “You’re chipping flannels too often” (flipping channels, on TV)
  • “Someone is occupewingmy pie. Please sew me to another sheet (occupying my pew… show me to another seat)
  • You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain” (missed all my history lectures… wasted a whole term….the next down train).

Syllogism (see also Enthymeme and Logos)

A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, first proposed by Socrates.

  • Major premise: All mammals are warm-blooded
  • Minor premise: All black dogs are mammals.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, all black dogs are warm-blooded.


Figure of repetition that combines Anaphora and Epistrophe in which the first and last word or words in one phrase, clause, or sentence are repeated in one or more successive phrases, clauses, or sentences; or, repetition of the first and last words in a clause over successive clauses.

  • There will be time enough to debate our continuing differences. Now is the time to recognise that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.” Al Gore, 2000 Concession Speech.


Figure of comparison in which a word standing for part of something is used for the whole of that thing or vice versa; any part or portion or quality of a thing used to stand for the whole of the thing or vice versa — genus to species or species to genus.

  • “I began a little quiet campaign of persuasion with certain editors. One would have thought we would find willing ears on the part of the newspapers.” Lee de Forest.
  • “Parliament” in the UK means The Houses of Parliament in London.


A person’s account of an event or state of affairs.

  • “I saw the defendant leaving the burning building at 3am, and run along the road away from me.”

Tricolon (triplet)

Series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses.

  • Location, Location, Location
  • Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
  • This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals.”
  • “Eye it, try it, buy it
  • “Ours is the age of substitutes: insteadof language, we have jargon; instead of principles, slogans; instead of genuine ideas, bright ideas.”
  • What a time we had: splashed through bogs, ate like hogs, slept like logs.”
  • ‘But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground.” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address 19 November, 1863.


Any words, phrase, or syntax that is complete enough to be studied rhetorically (i.e. an umbrella term for most if not all rhetorical tools). Most usually, a trope is:

  1. A figure of speech, or
  2. a play on words; a rhetorical device that produces a shift in the meaning of words, traditionally contrasted with a scheme, which changes only the shape of a phrase. The four basic types of trope are metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony (to which all others are reducible).
  • “I found your article very interesting.” (boring)
  • “I loved your play.” (No I didn’t)


Figure of speech: A writer deliberately makes a situation seem less important/serious than it is.

  • “I thought the sinking of the Titanic was a bit of a pity.”


Wit is an edgy form of saying or writing something clever that is humorous, usually funny. Forms of wit include the quip, one-liners, banter and repartee.

  • I’m not a fan of the new £1 coin, but then again, I hate all change” (Ken Cheng, Edinburgh Fringe top joke 2017).
  • “I like to imagine the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it the ‘brella’. But he hesitated”. Andy Field, ALSO Edinburgh Fringe 2017.