Rhetoric is, in its simplest form, communication. It is both conscious and subconscious in its attempt to convey a message. “How we perceive, what we know, what we experience, and how we act are the results of our own symbol use and that of those around us; rhetoric is the term that captures all these processes. For us, rhetoric is the human use of symbols to communicate” (Foss et al. 1). Being that rhetoric is simply symbolic communication, it stands to reason that almost anything can be rhetorical. Words, no matter their delivery, have the ability to expose perspective on behalf of both writer and reader. “[R]hetoric is symbol, by which we mean something that stands for or represents something else by virtue of relationship, association, or convention” (Foss et al. 2). Such is the case throughout the existence of rhetoric.
Rhetoric has experienced six distinct periods since its formal inception in the fourth century B.C.E.; these periods include classical, medieval, renaissance, enlightenment, nineteenth-century, and modern rhetoric. Though each period had obvious and unique characteristics from those surrounding it, a common thread exists among them all. Rhetoric was used with the aim of delivering a message to an audience; in most cases, this message was intended to be persuasive. And, modern rhetoric is no different from traditional styles in this aspect. The same basic concept has reigned true for centuries. However, there are distinguishable differences between modern rhetoric and prior periods. In many ways, modern rhetoric is far more relatable, analytical, and applicable than the flowery language and roundabout arguments that marked early classical and medieval rhetoric.
It is interesting to compare traditional forms of rhetoric with modern interpretations as similarities and differences are readily apparent. In fact, there has been little difference in regards to the main goal of rhetoric; just as ancient orators hoped to inspire a crowd to some particular action or belief, contemporary politicians and lecturers desire an audience to rally for their cause as well. In its simplest, truest nature, rhetoric is simply communication. Not much has been lost in the way of this. This being said, modern rhetoric has changed a great deal in the finite details. This evolution includes delivery, language, audience, and culture. Modern rhetoric is far more accessible and relatable than existed a millennia ago, with an entirely new audience and culture with which to influence or draw inspiration. Digitalization has provided the masses an opportunity to access rhetoric like never before as well as enables the “everyday” individual an opportunity to broadcast his own materials. Contemporary rhetoric is less elitist, to be blunt. Approaches to rhetoric are quite different from ancient methodologies. As exemplified in Obama’s announcement of presidential candidacy, modern rhetoric has the innate ability to fuse traditional, pure practices of rhetoric with globalized and relatable traits of the present.