Tag Archives: rhetorical devices


More on Pathos

** My students last semester also asked me to write more about Pathos. I didn’t write anything about Logos. If you would like me to also write some more about Logos, let me know in a comment! ***

Pathos is all about appealing to people’s emotions. A commercial featuring sad puppies (ASPCA), or cute babies (some cleaning products, all baby products), or young adults having fun (Coca Cola) is trying to get you to buy the product (or donate money) by associating that act with the emotion that the commercial gives you. You want the puppies to have homes and be loved, don’t you???

People who are asking for money/food/other resources on the street or on the train usually use pathos as their main rhetorical strategy. They often appeal to our sense of moral decency and empathy for other human beings. Or perhaps our sense of guilt for not helping others when we probably could.

Mattress and bedding ads appeal to pathos! Because nice new fancy sheets that probably smell nice make you think of being in your cozy bed…how nice would that be? Wouldn’t you like to be in bed right now? Pathos.

Calls for political action often appeal to pathos, because they call out something horrible in society to make you angry and then ask you to (donate, vote, volunteer, etc) as a way of dealing with that anger.

Sex appeal is also pathos. You want to be sexy, or be with someone who is sexy, or do sexual things, and this product will help to be sexy/attract sexy people/help you have sex! All of that is based on feelings.

Nostalgia is also pathos. We especially see a lot more ads appealing to nostalgia as we get closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas.


More on Ethos

Here’s some more thoughts/explanations/examples on ethos, which I wrote after my students last semester asked for more resources.


Ethos is the credibility/reliability/trustworthiness (or PERCEIVED credibility/reliability/trustworthiness) of the speaker.

The story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a fable about ethos. Because the boy cries “Wolf!” even when there is no wolf so many times, the villagers don’t believe him when there actually is a wolf. He ruined his ethos by lying and pranking them.

In professional settings, I often don’t have a lot of ethos, because I’m young and don’t have my PhD (yet!!). So in order to convince people that I know what I’m talking about, I may choose to dress extra professionally, talk extra formally, or make a point of mentioning the experience and qualifications that I do have. Think about a resume– that’s a genre that basically only uses ethos. It’s just a list of all the things you’ve done that make you good for a job.

Trump and Ethos

Trump is an interesting person to analyze when we think about ethos. During the 2016 election, and again now, many people who supported Trump said they liked him because he was a successful businessman, so he knows how to run things. Trump’s reputation as a rich person (and owner of a business) made some people trust/believe that he would be a good president.

People who didn’t like Trump would say, “But he has no experience in politics” or “Running a business is different from running a government, so that doesn’t matter.” They did not feel like he had a lot of ethos.

Now, people who don’t like Trump will say, “He lies all the time about everything” — he has no ethos! If he lies, why would you trust him about any given piece of information? Trump supporters say that Trump has a lot of ethos, but the media is not reliable– they say the media has no ethos because they are out to get Trump even if it means lying.

Some Other Examples of Ethos

Ethos is often the source of tension in horror movies. For example, in The Invisible Man, a woman’s abusive ex is stalking and continuing to abuse her, but he’s invisible, so nobody believes her.

(Note: Discussion of assault and racism below)

Ethos is also SUPER important in sexual assault cases. Many times, people try to discredit the victim’s ethos– they were drunk, they’re exaggerating, they just want attention or money or to punish the perpetrator, etc. That’s about whether the accuser is trustworthy. But ethos isn’t just about trust– it’s about ethics, or goodness. We see that on the flip side. Often, when people talk about the perpetrator, they portray the perpetrator as wholesome (“just a kid, has his whole life ahead of him”) or normal (“Brock Turner, a star swimmer at Stanford University”), etc. This builds up the perpetrator’s ethos so people are more likely to believe them, or more likely to be lenient.

Racial profiling is also an example of an ethos problem. Because of racism, anyone who isn’t white is often viewed as less trustworthy– having less ethos– than a white person. They didn’t do anything to earn that lack of ethos– it’s just assigned to them by other people. A given action (walking down the street, holding a toy gun, wearing a turban, etc.) that is interpreted as non-threatening when a white person does it becomes rhetorically threatening when a not-white person does it– because the “speaker” (do-er of the action) lacks ethos. In this case, because of racism, not because of anything they did.

Ethos is not about whether or not someone is ACTUALLY saying true information/doing a particular thing. It’s about whether or not their audience PERCEIVES them to be telling the truth/doing a particular thing.

Ethos and Research/Your Writing

Let’s pretend I want to write a scholarly paper about Black Panther and its significance to African American readers. I’ve only seen the movie once, I haven’t read any of the comics, I’m not part of the fandom, I don’t really know much about comics in general or about African American literature in general, and I’m not African American myself. So I have basically no ethos! I can tell you my opinion about Black Panther, but you have no reason to trust my opinion more than anybody else’s.

In contrast, Professor Jonathan Gray (here at John Jay and at the Graduate Center)  could just say his opinion about Black Panther and it would mean a lot, because he has a lot of ethos. He is a professor with a PhD whose specialities are African American literature, pop culture, and comics. He has written books and articles about these topics. He has a lot of knowledge, not only about Black Panther specifically but about related topics in history and culture. He is also personally African American and a comics fan himself, so he can speak from his own personal experience and feelings about Black Panther too.

So one way I could boost my own ethos is by citing Professor Gray. My opinion might not mean much by itself, but if someone with a lot of ethos on this topic like him agrees with me, you might trust my analysis more!

For your research projects, you all will have at least a little knowledge about your topics, but probably not a lot. You are not experts. So you find information written by experts instead. You boost your own ethos by showing that you are filling in the gaps in your knowledge by seeking out reliable information. As a writer, you’re saying, “You can trust me, because I worked really hard to find true information from reliable sources.”


Testimonial Examples

Please post your rhetorical devices homework for The Testimonial Appeal as comments on this post. Make sure your comments include all parts of the assignment. 

For the readings on these devices, please refer to the Course Schedule for links.

This is due by Wednesday, March 4th at 4:30 pm, but you are welcome to post late for partial credit.

Fear and Humor Examples

Please post your rhetorical devices homework for Fear and Humor Appeals as comments on this post. Make sure your comments include all parts of the assignment. 

For the readings on these devices, please refer to the Course Schedule for links.

This is due by Wednesday, February 26th at 4:30 pm, but you are welcome to post late for partial credit.

Rhetorical Devices: Bandwagon and Namecalling

Please post your rhetorical devices homework for Bandwagon and Namecalling as comments on this post. Make sure your comments include all parts of the assignment. 

For the readings on these devices, please refer to the Course Schedule for links.

This is due by Wednesday, February 5th at 4:30 pm, but you are welcome to post late for partial credit.

Rhetorical Devices Assignment

Each weekend, you will read short passages online about two rhetorical devices/strategies. (Usually two, sometimes more, sometimes less.)  During the following week, you should either find examples of people using these devices in the world OR make up your own examples and post them as comments to the Course Site blog post corresponding with those devices.

Along with each example, you should provide one or two sentences explaining the context and how the rhetorical device affects the rhetor’s message. If you made up the example, make up a context in which it could be used. Write about at least two examples per device per week. You may miss one week without penalty.

Additional Guidance on Analysis:
Good analysis doesn’t just answer the question, “How is your example representative of the rhetorical device?”. To develop your analysis, consider the following questions: “What does this device add to the meaning? ” “What effect does it have on the reader/listener?” or “What does the speaker/writer gain from using this device”? “What makes it different than saying the same information without using the rhetorical device?”

For example, saying “This is an example of Bandwagon because the commercial says that “America runs on Dunkin, so they are saying that everyone drinks Dunkin Donuts coffee” does not count as analysis. What does Dunkin hope to achieve by using this technique? How do they hope the use of the Bandwagon technique will affect the audience? 

Although the rhetorical device readings are listed as being due on Monday, I strongly recommend you read them as early (e.g. the preceding Thursday or Friday) as your schedule allows. This will give you more time to find examples.

Grading for the rhetorical device examples will be as follows:

0 points if you did not post.

1 point if you only posted one example per device, or if you did not provide context/analysis.

2 points if you completed the assignment.

Although each individual post is worth a very small portion of your grade, habitually not completing this assignment will significantly impact both your overall grade and your ability to do well on other assignments. The purpose of this assignment is to get you into the habit of noticing rhetoric at work around you while also learning about a wide variety of rhetorical strategies beyond the rhetorical appeals.