Rhetorical devices

Rhetorical devices are language tools that help speakers make their arguments sound more appealing, interesting or memorable. In what follows, you can read our observations about Barack Obama's most used rhetorical devices in his 2012 victory spee…

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Allusion

An allusion is a reference to an event (historical or current), to a person, to media or literature that the speaker finds relevant for the purpose of his speech.

Barack Obama begins with an allusion to the American Revolution, as a way to connect America’s past with the present: “Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny…” 

In the thanks section of the speech, he mentions several people: his wife and daughters, the Vice President, and his political opponent, Mitt Romney: “From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to g…

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Antithesis

Antithesis means using opposite terms/ideas to create contrast. One example of antithesis from the speech is “from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope” which is meant to emphasize the idea that Americans can resist and overcome any challenge.

Another …

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Direct Address

Barack Obama uses direct address several times in his speech, mostly in the thank you section (when the speaker is expected to give thanks to those who supported him): “Michelle, I have never loved you more.”

However, he also addresses the American audience several times to make them feel involved and important: “Tonight, in this election, yo…

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Enumeration and repetition

Enumerations (listings) give speeches structure and emphasis, while repetitions make points more memorable. Combining them often has a more powerful impact on the audience.

Barack Obama uses such combinations on several occasions. One is: “…in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened up by inequality…

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Imagery, metaphors, and hyperbole

The speaker also uses metaphors and hyperbole to create powerful images for the audience.

He calls his Vice President Joe Biden “America's happy warrior”, a metaphor that suggests both strength and kindness.

He uses personifying metaphors to describe the US as loving and tolerant towards immigrants, meant to make the audience more accepting of immigrants: “We believe in a generous America, in a compassio…

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