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Words Like Loaded Pistols

Words like Loaded Pistols. What an arresting title for a book. I decided to read it just based on its cover. In the first few pages, I learned that it’s a book about rhetoric.

What is rhetoric? I met a few people in college who studied it, and I thought it had to do with logic or philosophy. I was wrong. It’s the art of convincing others with words.

Rhetoric formed a major part of educational curricula before the mid-20th century, but has fallen out of favor for other disciplines. I wish it hadn’t.

In the book, Sam Leith deconstructs the works of evocative orators: Aristotle, Cicero, Churchill, Luther King Jr., amongst many others. How do they do it? It turns out there’s a formula that’s been in use since the Greeks.

The book enumerates the troika of persuasive arguments: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos means using your credibility to support your reasoning. Take my advice because I’ve been in VC for 15 years.

Logos isn’t logic, even though it might seem so. Rather, logos is the narrative that enables an audience to reach your intended point before you do. Convincing arguments don’t need to be hermetic, vacuums sapping oxygen from counterpoints; rather, they can be elegant leaps from one point to another that drive an audience to a conclusion. Logic must be airtight. For example, Redpoint is the best partner for you because of our experience with Stripe, Twilio, Snowflake, & Looker.

Pathos is about the emotion behind the appeal, which can be euphoria, despair, exhortation. Please take my investment dollars or I won’t be able to return the fund to feed my fish.

Powerful rhetoric leverages all three.

In addition, cogent debaters interlace twists of phrase with poetic cadence. If you’ve ever studied Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter or listened to the climax “I Have a Dream” you’ll recognize how important the rhythm is to evocative language.

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Let freedom ring is the drumbeat to the speech’s crescendo.

Words Like a Loaded Pistol provides a sweeping analysis of eloquent argument and tangible techniques for implementing it.

There’s even a 10 page glossary of different techniques from alliteration (same sounds sequentially) to zeugma (a verb acting on two objects with different meanings), circumlocution (talking around a point) to pleonasm (using superfluous words).