This is a list of terms common in the discipline of rhetoric. This is not an exhaustive list; key terms in rhetorical theory and practice are many. However, we believe this glossary contains rhetorical terms more relevant to the goal of mutual persuasion.


Definitions of rhetoric abound. However, the most recognizable definition comes from Aristotle, who wrote,

the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion


Lately, rhetoric has taken on a more “communal” definition, which emphasizes how we use language or symbols to make sense of the world, construct identities, make meaning, and persuade others into action.

When it comes to mutual persuasion in a civil society, the definition of rhetoric provided by rhetoricians Catherine Helen Palczewski, Ricard Ice, John Fritch, and Ryan McGoeugh in their book Rhetoric in Civic Life may suffice:

Rhetoric is the use of symbols (words and images) to share ideas, enabling people to work together to make decisions about matters of common concern, create identity, and construct social reality.

Catherine Helen Palczewski, Ricard Ice, John Fritch, and Ryan McGoeugh, Rhetoric in Civic Life

A comparable definition is put forth by in Rhetorical Theory: An Introduction: 

The use of language and other symbolic systems to make sense of our experiences, construct our personal and collective identities, produce meaning, and prompt action in the world.

Timothy Borchers and Heather Hundley, Rhetorical theory: An introduction

These definitions emphasize the use of words and images to maintain a civil and pluralistic society. 

Taken all three deinitions into consideration, we have defined “Mutual Persuasion” as the deliberate consideration of a variety of values, attitudes, and beliefs to better discern the most effective use of words and images to create understanding across difference, discern commonalities, and ensure productive collaboration for individual and group interests. 


A message given in the form of a story to illustrate a message or argument. Often, characters in the story represent real life concepts, events, or real people. (See Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”)


A form of explanation in which one compares an idea or action to similar ideas or actions that may be more familiar to a given audience.


Rhetorical framework that writers or speakers use to persuade their audience. The appeals are three in total. “Logos” is the appeal to an audience’s reason, i.e. the use of logic to persuade. “Pathos” is the appeal to an audience’s emotions, i.e. the use of empathy to move an audience to act on behalf of some person or group. “Ethos” is the appeal to character or credibility, i.e. the words used to inform the audience that a speaker or writer is credible and worthy of listening to. Ideally, an effective message involves each appeal to varying degrees.  


Audience, simply put, is a party (individual or group) that receives a message from one or more rhetors in a given situation. However, this concept is much more complicated than this.  An audience can be addressed even if not physically present (e.g., social media posts, newspapers, journals, blogs, etc.), can be intended or unintended, and can be multifaceted. (Multiple disparate audiences can exist for a given message.)

Regarding Mutual Persuasion, an audience is an entity with whom a speaker or a writer can identify. What’s more, an audience is an entity speakers should try to gauge to the best of their abilities. This way, a speaker or writer can better discern how to exude credibility, how much emotion should be used in a message, and what examples and references an audience may prefer. What’s more, audiences can be passive (taking in a message for its informative value) or active (taking in a message as a call to action.)

Besides a “universal audience”—an audience of people deemed rational and “normal” that a speaker or writer assumes can understand a given message—we  have at least four general categories of audience, each referred to as a kind of persona. The “first persona” is the speaker or writer. The following personae represent kinds of audiences. 

Second Persona: the direct audience to whom a speaker or writer conveys a message. This audience can be implicitly or explicitly identified. Basically, the second persona is the audience a communicator intends to address.

Third Persona: the audience that may be left out of negated but may hear the message anyway. This is an unintended audience and may not have the proper terminology or amount of concern to understand a speaker or writer’s message. 

Fourth Persona: the audience that may doubt a speaker’s message but listens anyway. Often, this audience wants to hear the speaker’s message to get a better idea of what he or she is trying to accomplish.

Lastly, we would be remiss not to mention the concept of a universal audience. This is one’s “theoertical audience,” consisting of people a speaker or writer would consider “normal” or “rational.” 

Civil Society

This term denotes a citizenry’s collective and voluntary action. More broadly, it refers to repeated social interaction of individuals working together to pursuing common interests, often resulting in social institutions that drive society.  Individualism and voluntarism are central aspects of Civil Society. Civil society is contrasted most commonly with state control of a citizenry–which is a kind of coercion– and hyper-individualism–which dismisses collaboration and productive competition. 


Ethos is a rhetorical appeal focused on credibility. As Aristotle wrote, audiences find it easier to trust a person they deem trustworthy and familiar. The rhetorician Kenneth Burke uses the term “identification” as a kind of appeal to credibility. If a speaker or writer can convey information and statements which connote the values and beliefs of the audience, successful persuasion is more likely to occur. Keep in mind, the idea is not to put on airs, but to discover what values and beliefs one already has and use them to connect with an audience. 

It is important to keep in mind that Aristotle insisted that one need not have a favorable and well-known reputation to acquire ethos. One’s words and demeanor alone can do the trick if the audience is properly gauged. 

For all these reasons, Aristotle wrote that ethos “may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion [one] possesses.”


The philosophical study of how humans can know what they know. How we determine what is and is not true and important is an epistemological endeavor.


Ideology is a system of beliefs, values, attitudes, and expectations held by a culture of society. It is a philosophy of and outlook on life favored by a community that influences their actions and choices.  Ideologies are socially constructed and not naturally constituted. Thus, different societies can abide by different and, in some ways, opposing ideologies.


The idea that the salient unit of moral and political concern is the individual. Each individual possesses rights, and governments should protect these rights. Thus, individualism is the belief that the government should serve individuals, not the other way around. Individualism is not opposed to the importance of communal bonds or the concept of social construction: the idea that each individual is shaped by communal forces. However, like governments, communities should serve its individuals, not the other way around. Individualism also denotes the right to own one’s body, self-reliance, and self-responsibility. Ultimately, individualism denotes personal freedom and the right to join or leave a situation as one desires.

The concept of individualism is important to rhetoric because it suggests that a speaker or writer is not necessarily a representation of a particular group, be it racial, socio-economic, political, etc. The speaker or writer is not compelled to represent a particular group or be interchangeable with any other individual in a group, including a whole society.


Hegemony is the dominant ideology of a culture or society that seems to control the thoughts and actions of citizens without physical coercion. That is, social control is done through ideas, norms, and mores so common and widely circulated in a culture or society that they are deemed normal or commonsensical.


Kairos is most simply known as the opportune occasion for speech. However, it also denotes how time, place, audience, and subject matter can affect not only what is said, but how it’s said. A simple example is that one will talk to her friends differently than she would her parents, even if the subject matter discussed is the same. Likewise, one may speak different to one’s roommates in the morning than they would in the afternoon; the may be groggy in the morning and more energetic in the afternoon, those influencing one’s delivery of information. A wise speaker or writer considers Kairos to the best of one’s ability before attempting to persuade.


Logos is the rhetorical appeal to logic and reason. It is understood as both the construct and content of a message. The construct of logos is best rendered by the syllogism, which uses the relationship between a major premise and a minor premise to reach a logical conclusion. Here is a sample:

Major Premise: All men are mortal

Minor Premise: Socrates was a man.

Conclusion: Socrates was normal.

The syllogism, also known as deductive reasoning, is along with inductive reasoning, a primary concept is logos. An attempt at logos that has a faulty or flawed syllogism is called a logical fallacy. 

Regarding content, logos deals with empirical data (e.g. statistics, evidence) and apparently factual information. An attempt at logos that has flawed data or information is called a material fallacy.


The philosophical study of what constitutes basic human existence and how it shapes human perceptions of the world. 


Pathos is an rhetorical appeal to emotion.  Humans are emotional beings, and those emotions can affect what we say and how we say it as well as what we hear and how we hear it. Thus, speakers or writers may try to induce particular emotions in an audience that may put them in a more receptive mindset. Where ethos provides comfort through familiarity, pathos provides comfort through feelings. 

That being said, negative emotions can also be rhetorically effective. Aristotle went as far as describing how emotions like anger can be used to enhance persuasiveness.  

Although this may sound like an ignoble manipulation of emotion, ideally it is the use of emotions already felt by the writer or speaker that are channeled into effective communication. The outright manipulation of emotions are called psychological fallacies. 

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical or persuasive appeals are approaches to communication that, used together, better ensure one’s ability to persuade. The three rhetorical appeals are ethos, logos, and pathos. 


The uncoerced giving of resources to support other individuals in a society. This concept is contrasted with forced charity or the redistribution of wealth. Free individuals who are interested in supporting a worthwhile cause or assisting those in need should feel free to do so, perhaps in the form of an institution or as a single agent. 

This concept is important to rhetoric because it implies that one must be persuasive, not coercive, to compel people to give resources–e.g., time, money, or energy. Persuasion is imperative to a free society.