Rhetoric and its Meaning Over Time

Gerard A. Hauser defines this term as such, “Rhetoric, as an area of study, is concerned with how humans use symbols, especially language, to reach agreement that permits coordinated effort of some sort,” but what did it mean before and how has it changed? In this modern rendition Hauser paints it as a more positive word with a meaning that entails teamwork, inclusion of new media, and naming it an area of study. Going back a little further in history to 1950 Kenneth Burke gives us a more negative connotation to the word when he displays rhetoric as a sort of seductress, “The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”

The definition of rhetoric really depends on the time period, perspective of the writer, and other cultural and social factors at the time. Hauser chooses to show the word as positive due to the fact that a new birth of technology began to arise at the time he labeled rhetoric as quoted above. While for someone like Burke his definition might be more negative because 1950 was a rough time including spikes in Jim Crow style laws, international tension, and more public displays of political corruption.