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Welcome to The Silver Tongue

September 30, 2010

Welcome to The Silver Tongue! We’re rhetoric scholars committed to providing smart, entertaining insight into the language that shapes our everyday lives.

Many people associate rhetoric with deceptive or “slimy” communication. Rhetoric is sometimes used to mean the opposite of reality, as in “I can deliver solutions to real problems; my opponent offers up only rhetoric.” This is often the way journalists and politicians use “rhetoric.”

We, on the other hand, believe that rhetoric is the way things get done in a democracy, that communication and persuasion are desirable alternatives to force. We cannot solve social problems without understanding, and we cannot achieve understanding without rhetoric. Of course, rhetoric can be can be used to deceive, too, and it frequently is. It can be a force for good or deception, depending on who’s using it.

In our increasingly mediated society, rhetoric has taken on an even greater importance. That’s where we come in. Why did President Obama say that? What do Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck mean when they talk about “restoring” America? Why don’t politicians just say what they mean? At The Silver Tongue, we’re going to uncover the hidden side of public rhetoric.  We’ll cover the big speeches, the sound bites you heard on the news. We’ll also cover the stuff you didn’t hear about, the speeches that should have made news but didn’t.

Our blog was inspired by a comment made by Kathleen Hall Jamieson in Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking.  She writes that:

Knowledgeable critics of film, plays, and television educate the public in their respective arts and in the standards by which these arts should be assessed.  The absence of such evaluation of public speech denies the mass audience comparable assistance in evaluating an art that plays a direct role in the affairs of state (p. 6).

If rhetoric really matters to the public, as rhetoricians often claim, then we have a responsibility to aid the public in making sense of it.  We are obligated to make our expertise available to engaged citizens who want “assistance in evaluating an art that plays a direct role in the affairs of the state.”

Of course, scholars have been studying public rhetoric for millennia.  Academic journals offer an almost unlimited supply of excellent commentary on the role of rhetoric in public life.  The Silver Tongue is different because it is immediate, accessible and—we hope—fun to read.

Happy Reading,
Doug Cloud, Hilary Franklin, Alexis Teagarden and Matt Zebrowski
Founding Editors
The Silver Tongue

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