Why Rhetorical Figures?

It all started with the 1996 movie Michael Collins. I remember it vividly. I was sitting in my fresh-out-of-college apartment in Worcester, MA, a newly minted Latin teacher at Bancroft School. I had, as part of my Latin work as both a student and teacher, of course been introduced to those wonderfully esoteric terms that identify the subtle tricks of language. But they remained abstract. I could define them, I could even identify them (in Latin), but I didn’t understand how they worked or what their effect was. Until Michael Collins.

In the courtroom scene, Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman) quietly but firmly declares, “The Irish people established the republic; it can only be dis-established by the Irish people.” And it hit me. Right there. A chiasmus. In action. I got it. I understood how rhetorical figures ornamented language, made it more memorable, and rendered it more effective. And I knew that my students needed to hear it. And so the collection began and grew, and indeed students (and teachers) loved them. I can’t guarantee that I created any rhetoricians, but it is worthwhile when a student comes in to class happily declaring the rhetorical figure he heard on the radio on the way home.

So back then, in the late ’90s, this meant a cassette recorder, cords connecting it to the TV / VCR, a rental video cassette, and a lot of cuing until finally recording took place. Computers of course changed things. I could start collecting digital clips (WireTap and Audacity) but in the early days I’d burn the clips onto a CD (did you know that a CD can’t have more than 99 tracks? you learn this when you have over 100 clips no more than 15 or 20 seconds long (and it’s because CD players generally only have two digits in their displays)). Now, of course, I can play the clips right from the computer, but storage and unwieldiness have become an issue, so I’m going to start posting them here, as well as others I find. (And, yes, I’m that guy that, listening to the radio, hears a rhetorical figure, grows quite excited, notes it, and then records it at home.)

If you have some, if you know some, please be in touch, and I’ll post when I can. Otherwise, enjoy the collection.

As a postscript, neither this site nor its content is intended to engage in what can be the pedantic delineation (read: debate or, worse, argument) of similar or overlapping figures. You may know a different term for a figure or, more likely, know more about a particular figure. My goal is not to solve academic debates but rather to chart the appearance of certain figures in everyday life, whatever term or definition may be used for them.

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