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Rhetoric in the 21st Century

Speechwriting is supposed to be somewhat of a dark art, a means to manipulate. But in fact it's largely about hard graft.

As Mark Twain once remarked:

"It usually takes me more than three weeks to write a good impromptu speech.

While writing great speeches is mostly about hard work, there are some tools of the trade that help one along the way.

Speechwriting seems to have emerged as an art/profession in Ancient Greece, around the 5th Century BC with the early Sophists. They were itinerant writers who helped members of the public articulate their argument at courts; mostly over legal disputes. The stakes were high and the living was good. But from the very beginning it seems that speechwriters or sophists were regarded as an untrustowrthy bunch, willing to use words to bend the facts to the advantage of their customers. (Not much has changed there then).

Even the word sophistry still carries a pejorative edge, laced with caution, like "spin doctor".

The first Titans of the speech writing profession were Carax and Tisias. And later Isocrates (pictured below, oh noble man), who was a contemporary of Plato, and who started up the first school for speech writing.

These early champions discovered the smooth arts of persuasion. And they put these tools together under the overall heading of Rhetoric. The fascinating thing is that the tricks and turns of language that they discovered still hold true today.

In fact not only is Rhetoric alive and kicking in the 21st Century, I believe it would be impossible to write consistently with rhetoric.

The language of rhetoric is still dominated by Ancient Greek terminology. For example "enthymeme" meaning the connection between ideas.

Speech making is the art of articulating the relationship between ideas.

And then finding new and ever more vivid ways to express these relationships.For example the idea might be:

"Increasing the rate of corporation tax will harm the economy and the government's own finances because it will discourage entrepreneurship and also encourage companies to move their operations abroad."

In a speech that becomes:

"Higher taxes hurt jobs"

Easy, isn't it?


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