Rhetorical Devices in the Oral Tradition

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  • 0:01 What is Rhetoric?
  • 1:02 Tempo and Metaphor
  • 1:58 Repetition
  • 3:01 Directing Attention
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Have you ever kept someone from telling a story because you felt you could tell it better? Or maybe you'd love to be known for your ability to bring people in when you relate an event? Chances are you'll want to know about rhetorical devices.

What Is Rhetoric?

Have you ever heard a really good story? You know, the type that people tell around campfires late at night. Or maybe when you were younger, you went to the library, and the librarians could tell a story that just kept your attention, even though there were no pictures or actors.

Of course, it would be impossible to keep your attention without the story being compelling, but there was surely something about the way that the storyteller actually told the story. Did she say 'the dog chased the robbers away,' or was it more like 'the canines doggedly hounded the thieves until they fled, terrified to tarry in their thievery!' Sure, the two express the same thought, but the second does so in a much more vivid way.

This application of language to heighten visualizations, encourage emotion, and bring the listener more into the story is called rhetoric. In this lesson, we'll look at some common rhetorical techniques to make storytelling more effective.

Tempo and Metaphor

Surely, you've listened to a really boring person talk. It sounds like they are chewing the words before they come out, as if they have no emotion when they talk. In fact, it's like they just randomly chose words to string together.

Now, think about a great coach's pep talk. She builds up her language, building tempo. It's almost like her speech is set to the beat of a very big drum. This is done to make sure that stressed syllables are emphasized even more. However, it's not just the sound of the language, but what is said.

Chances are that a very vivid speech uses metaphor. Metaphor is when you directly compare something to something else. A coach may say that 'we are not going to lose to a bunch of babies. ' Now, I seriously doubt that any team your age or above has ever taken the field or court against a bunch of infants. However, it does sound a lot better than 'we are gonna win.'


Another really great technique used in storytelling is to be repetitive. Earlier in the lesson, I made reference to a story about hounds chasing thieves. It comes from a story that I was told when I was a child. I've forgotten most of the story, but I still remember the repetition of the language. The storyteller used two devices that I had no idea about at the time, but I know they worked to great effect.

First of all, she used polysyndeton, the repeating of conjunctions, to illustrate just how far the protagonist had to travel. Words like stream, hill, valley, and ridge might have sneaked past us had she not said 'through the stream and over the hill and through the valley and over the ridge'.

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