What is “The Silver Tongue”?
“The Silver Tongue” is a blog devoted to rhetorical criticism for the engaged citizen. And that’s you, right? Welcome, stranger. We hope we’ll be friends. No, really. Be a pal and like us on Facebook. It’ll be cool.
Here at TST we publish reviews of important, current, or relevant pieces of public rhetoric, and we discuss word choices and argument moves. Weren’t you just dying to know how language works in public affairs? Reader, we are your cure.
Who’s behind all of this?
We’re just a merry band of honest grad students, looking for a way to make what we do concrete, meaningful, and something we can actually show off at this year’s family reunion.
Do your advisors know you’re doing this?
Yes. Maybe. Hold on, you know our advisors? Are they talking about us? What did they say?
What is public rhetoric?
Good question. We’re going to say public rhetoric is any speech or piece of writing addressed to a lot of people. In other words, it’s language, especially political language, that circulates in public.
Wait a minute, isn’t rhetoric a bad thing?
Rhetoric isn’t bad; people are. Except sometimes they’re good. And then they can use rhetoric for good. Or they’re a shade of gray, and we’re not really sure what they’re doing. Which brings us back to our point: we need to pay more attention to rhetoric, not less. Because it’s a means to power in a democratic society. And means to power should not unwatched go.
Here’s what rhetoric means to a bunch of famous people. We couldn’t say it better ourselves. At least, not all of them. Together. There’s a lot, and we need to breathe. But you can go see.
And here’s a really good historical explanation of rhetoric, sophistry, and the principle of the thing, from our friend Martin Camper over at the Religious Rhetorics Blog.
Why is your symbol a snake? Are you evil?
Snakes are cool. And no.
In the Western popular imagination, at least, snakes have a double role. Their bite is poisonous, yet their venom is key to making antidotes. And while in the Garden of Eden the serpent talked Eve into Evil, in Greek mythology, snakes could lick your ears clean enough to understand animals or hear the future. Rhetoric, we argue, has the same double potential, and the difference between “painful death/out of Eden” and “saving cure/fostered Wisdom” is in how we use and attend to it.
Of course, while your thoughts are still in the area of Greece, we could also point to Hermes. Hermes–god of running shoes, flower deliveries, lawyers, liars, and thieves? Right, he was also the god of eloquence (hence the prayers addressed by lawyers, liars, and, we assume, red-handed thieves), and eloquence is represented by his caduceus (the stick with the wings and double helix of snakes). This could explain why Rhetoric personified often has the caduceus in hand.
And speaking of a time before the charming “dislike the speech–throw a shoe at the speaker” trend, hissing was a traditional method for audiences to register their discontent. Shakespeare (we do have a couple English BA dorks here) has some lines on it: “If we have unearnéd luck/Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue”… and if you’re still reading this, we’re betting you know the rest.
On the other hand, if the snake’s patterned skin looks familiar, it might be because we really dig American Revolutionary War imagery. Or, if you’re into synecdoche–and, we mean, who isn’t–snakes’ tongues are often representative of the whole animal–and mythology.
That said, the fact that snakes often make meals of rats, toads, weasels, and other such metaphorically inclined animals did not cross our minds at all. Until now.