2.9 Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are so called because they can be used to increase the rhetorical impact of your writing, i.e. make it more effective (more specifically more persuasive).

Lets try to challenge the representation of women as caring, kind and mothering, by using each of the rhetorical devices in a humorous personality piece for one of the broadsheet magazines.


1. Anecdote – a little illustrative story

The little dear was absolutely covered in snot; there seemed to be whole words of some foreign language transcribed across his cheeks and forehead in the sickly green slime. When he smiled the older words cracked, whilst the more recently formed words glistened in the pale light of the morning. What could I do but push him to one side with the heel of my shoe and continue on my way, idly walking about the streets.

2. Rhetorical Question – a question directed at the reader where the answer is obvious.

Can I be expected to touch the waifs and strays consequent of another woman’s failure to keep her knees together after another Saturday night down the pub?


3. Syntactic Parallelism – the use of parallel grammatical (or syntactical) constructions.

There were acne scarred youths to the right of me, track-suited oiks to the left of me, and no doubt, there were the more malevolent variety to the behind of me, about to reach out and grab my purse, catch a feel of my ass, or set about some other despicable crime that my imagination had yet to fathom.


4. Figurative Language – using either an explicit (simile) or an implicit (metaphor) comparison in order to more fully delineate your subject.

A wall of the most God awful smell hit me as soon as I entered the shopping mall; some twenty yards ahead of me unfortunately looking people in paper hats were doling out grease soaked pastry products to even more unfortunate looking people. The warmth of the smell was nothing other than a violation of my person and those few yards of unpolluted space I was entitled to as a human being. It was as though some heinous devil had ladled liters of the vile stuff all about me and apart from doing a backstroke out of there, there was little else to be done.


5. Repetition – repeating a certain word once or several times:

The dirty faces of dirty children smiling dirty smiles through dirty windows was about all I could take of public transport; I flagged down a cab to secure a quick exit.


6. Hyperbole – to exaggerate in order to stress your point or feelings.

I was dying. I was done for. The only thing left for me to do now was to curl up in some dank corner and discover a sudden but fervent faith in a supreme being who could, had he the inclination, come down to this vale of tears and rescue me: come and get me superman, I believe!


7. Litotes – is to understate for rhetorical effect.

I was not a little displeased with the chewing gum stuck to the chewing gum encrusting the heels of both my shoes, nor the distinct smell of vomit that was hanging in the air.


8. Personification – a metaphor where you give an inanimate object human characteristics.

The size eight suit floating behind the faintly frosted glass glared at me with derision. I was on the wrong side of the Armani window and I always would be. An especially fashionable scarf thought the whole thing terribly amusing, even its faint check pattern found me to unworthy of respect, sneering with squares of contempt and the subtlest hint of pity.


9. Pathetic Fallacy – similar in meaning to personification, but often applied to nature reflecting the feelings of a character in prose fiction.

The rain, when it finally fell, fairly dropped down, as though flung by a careless god more concerned with a hand of bridge he had left behind. As I walked past the tear stained windows of empty shops units, the rainwater, having collected itself up for one final though hopeless surge, caught me about my ankles and dragged me backwards. Which was when the clouds themselves decided to descend, following the fat drops of rain into the dark valleys of the streets, suddenly surrounding every thing, the dull appearance and passing of each car, the frequent manifestations of badly styled heads of mousey hair, even the variously obese or otherwise malformed participants in this dreadful slog through another Saturday afternoon.

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