26 May 2014

Rhetoric as identity-speech

From Sam Leith, the author of "You Talkin’ to Me?": Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, in
I say ‘we’ and ‘us’ but I mean ‘you in today's FT:
All rhetoric, it bears repeating, is at root identity-speech. The typical movement of a piece of persuasive speech or writing is from the “I” of the speaker and the “you” of the individuals in the audience towards a collective “we”. At the very least, you will seek to give the audience a sense of itself as a collective body – a big “we”, if you like – because you seek to command collective assent.
In general, you will seem friendlier and less stuffy and more direct – and therefore more honest – if, when writing or speaking on behalf of your company, you use “we” rather than speaking about the company in the third person. And how much more appealing it is to be told “I want us to agree” than to be told “I want you to agree with me”, even if the latter is what is actually meant.

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