In the late 1990s, tobacco companies spent millions trying to defeat
Proposition 10, an antismoking ballot initiative in California. Calling
themselves “The Committee Against Unfair Taxes,” they mailed out
expensive glossy brochures warning voters of the perils of the initiative.
They were especially anxious to inform everyone that
The sponsors of ill-conceived Proposition 10 are perennial political
activist millionaire Rob Reiner and four other Hollywood/Los
Angeles millionaire social engineers who believe they know more
about raising your children than you do.
This warning was accompanied by a grainy black-and-white photograph
of Reiner (whom you may remember from reruns of the ...view middle of the document...
Does Juanita “still owe over $1,000 on her credit
card”? Or does Juanita “owe only a little over $1,000 on her credit card”?
There’s no factual difference between the two questions—only a difference in
their rhetorical force. The thing to remember through these next few chapters
is that rhetorical force may be psychologically effective, but by itself it establishes
nothing. If we allow our attitudes and beliefs to be affected by sheer
rhetoric, we fall short as critical thinkers.
Now before we get in trouble with your English teacher, let’s make it
clear that there is nothing wrong with trying to make your case as persuasive
as possible by using well-chosen, rhetorically effective words and phrases.
Good writers always do this. But we, as critical thinkers, must be able to distinguish
the argument (if any) contained in what someone says or writes from
the rhetoric; we must be able to distinguish the logical force of a set of remarks
from their psychological force. The statement above from the tobacco
companies about Rob Reiner, for example, contains no argument whatsoever;
it just uses inflammatory rhetorical techniques aimed at getting us to vote
against the antismoking initiative.
One of the things you will become aware of—as you read these pages and
do the exercises and apply what you have learned to what you read and write—
is that rhetoric is often mixed right in with argument. The message isn’t that
you should deduct points from an argument if it is presented in rhetorically
charged language, and it isn’t that you should try to get all the rhetoric out of
your own writing. The message is simply that you shouldn’t add points for
rhetoric. You don’t make an argument stronger by screaming it at the top of
your lungs. Likewise, you don’t make it stronger by adding rhetorical devices.
Many of these rhetorical bells and whistles have names because they are
so common and so well understood. Because they are used primarily to give a
statement a positive or negative slant regarding a subject, they are sometimes
called slanters. We’ll describe some of the more widely used specimens.
EUPHEMISMS AND DYSPHEMISMS
Language usually offers us a choice of words when we want to say something.
Until recently, the term “used car” referred to an automobile that wasn’t new,
but the trend nowadays is to refer to such a car as “pre-owned.” The...