Rhetorically speaking

I’ve been painting my flat which has rather taken me away from writing. I picked out muted kind of pistacchio green, a little paler than a good gelato, for the walls and think it looks fab. There’s a persian rug on the floor, with a dark wine like colour pattern, not exactly wine, more of a dark blood shade perhaps. The two colours look surprisingly good together and better than they sound since running through my head and maybe yours too is the maxim ‘red and green should never be seen’. If you’re a designer (or google ‘colour theory’) however, you’ll know red and green are complementary.

This got me to thinking that maybe it’s the maxim itself that creates a reality – as far as anything so subjective as colour choice can be ‘real.’* It is just a silly little rhyme but it takes the aphorism beyond the merits of its argument and makes it memorable and is actually quite powerful.

That kind of rhetoric – like the kind that attempts superlatives and questions and other known devices may be easy to spot, and more or less effective depending on how skillfully it’s done. There is another kind though – the kind that tries to pretend it’s not rhetoric and I find that dishonest.

One of the worst offenders I think is academic style. The third person tense, the polysyllabic words, the sentences that run on and on and on for paragraphs. They try so very hard to convey a measured pitch that will suggest to the reader that the argument is balanced and impersonal and grounded in pure reason. As if. This style is no less a naked attempt on the readers’ emotions than that made by the reddest of red tops.

Choosing your words to induce a calm and reflective mood so your reader will nod along is no less rhetorical than lathering them up like the Daily Hate.

*I know, theory dictates that words are somewhat arbitrarily attached to reality and meaning for one person isn’t the same as for another. Do you mind if we skip that argument for now: this is about persuasion, rather than the representation or construction of reality?

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