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Public Rhetoric on the 50th Anniversary of “I Have a Dream”

August 28, 2013

Today marked the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march that ended with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In Washington, the anniversary was celebrated with a day-long event, including speeches from people who were at the original march, all living former presidents able to attend (both Bushes cited health reasons for missing the event), members of the King family, and President Obama.

It’s an interesting event for rhetoricians, one that we wanted to make a brief comment on. “I Have a Dream” is one of the most famous pieces of public rhetoric ever, at least for Americans, and it seems fair to say that the original 1963 march is remembered more for King’s words than the march itself. As such, many of the speakers today referenced the speech, an interesting bit of speaking about speeches. Many echoed or at least referenced King’s famous language.

It’s also interesting that we have an African-American president for the occasion, a strong symbol of the progress we’ve made towards racial equality, and a symbol that many present remarked on while simultaneously pointing to the work that still needs to be done.

You can watch a video or read the transcript of Obama’s speech if you click here, and every major news outlet has sections of their websites devoted to the anniversary event. It’s rare that we see a bit of rhetoric getting so much solemn attention, so we’re stoked. What do you guys think?

When “Mere Rhetoric” Saves Lives: The Decatur, GA Gunman as a Case-in-Point

August 21, 2013

Rhetoricians and others who study persuasive language often find themselves confronted with the following tropes: 1) the use of the word “rhetoric” to mean empty or nasty discourse, 2) the idea that there is such a thing as “mere” rhetoric, and 3) a contrast between rhetoric and reality which would seem to imply that the two are totally separable (e.g. “we need action, not rhetoric”). The news this week brought a powerful repudiation of all of these ideas. In Decatur, Georgia, a would-be school shooter was talked down by a school staff member, Antoinette Tuff: Read more…

Race and Language in the Zimmerman Trial

July 9, 2013

As George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin progresses, there have been a lot of interesting things said about one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel is the last person to have spoken to Martin alive, and her testimony last week alleged that Martin was on the phone with her when he expressed concerns about Zimmerman following him. Jeantel’s testimony, along with her presence on social networking sites, drew a lot of attention online and in the press that adds another layer to the racially charged nature of the case.

Read more…

The Silver Tongue wants YOU…

July 8, 2013

…to write for us.

We mentioned that we’d been looking for ways to get you, our readers, more involved in the blog, and the main way we decided to do that was to edit down the bulky, intimidating submission guide we sent out only when solicited into something short, snappy, and publicly available. You can find our new submission guide here if you’re interested. And we hope you are. What better way to stave off midsummer doldrums than writing insightful and funny commentary on current events? We sure can’t think of anything.


Framing in the Surveillance Controversy: When a Choice isn’t Really a Choice

June 25, 2013

Happy summer, dear readers! It’s been far too long since we rapped at you on this here weblog, but that doesn’t mean that we at TSTHQ have forgotten you. On the contrary—we’ve kicked off the season by trying to think of ways to encourage all y’all to get more involved in our little corner of the internet (more on that soon) and, as always, looking for interesting things to talk to you about. And in the past few weeks, we haven’t had to look too far.

Read more…

What did you make of Obama’s remarks after the bombings in Boston?

April 19, 2013

It’s hard to speak about an event when we know so little about how and why it happened. In fact, at this time scary things are still happening in Boston. Nevertheless, presidents are expected to make remarks before the smoke has cleared and the full facts are known. He or she must sidestep questions such as these: Do we call it an act of terror? Isn’t it possible that the suspect suffered from severe mental illness and had no political motivation (i.e. wasn’t a terrorist per se)? I empathize with President Obama. The rhetorical situation here is a tough one, the leading constraint being that he is expected to speak and yet may know very little about what actually happened.

Obama spoke at an interfaith memorial service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He delivered his address last Thursday. You can read the full transcript here and I’ll paste it below. One thing that stuck out to me, perhaps for no good reason, was this remark:

If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described, the values that make us who we are, as Americans — well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.

This comment, while admirable in its epideictic praise of a city under siege, begs a very troubling question: which city would have been the right city? But this is pure snark. What do you make of his speech? Share your reactions below. Read more…

“Bad” Things You Should Go Ahead and Say to Your Children Anyway: A Rhetorician’s Guide to Language-Consciousness Training for Parents of Young Children

April 19, 2013

Several years ago, I listened as my mom told a new mother to whom we are very close that she should stop using the phrase “bad baby” (disclosure: the young mother in question is an excellent parent). This struck me as eminently sensible. The young mother took my mom’s advice to heart, and stopped right away. But this child was precocious and, sensing that the phrase had become forbidden, developed a puckish habit of saying “bad baby!” and running from the room giggling. It charmed me to no end.

I share this anecdote to raise a larger question: how should parents talk to young children? We as a society have only just begun to fully appreciate that children can hear and be affected by the words we choose. The Internet, the world’s leading clearinghouse for wisdom, product reviews, and pure human awfulness, has taken on this challenge with gusto. A colleague recently passed along an article titled “10 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids (and What to Say Instead)” You can read it in full here. We’ll take a close look at it below, but you can find similar articles here, here and here. Some of these pieces offer good advice. The most heartbreaking are those that advise on how to talk to children about events like the Boston Marathon Bombing. But sometimes we go too far in managing language, and nasty patterns creep in—see below. Read more…


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