is the term for the mastery of stylistic elements in Western classical rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...
and comes from the Latin loqui
, "to speak". Although today we associate the word elocution
more with eloquent speaking, for the classical rhetorician it connoted "style".
It is the third of the five canons of classical rhetoric (the others being inventio
Inventio is the system or method used for the discovery of arguments in Western rhetoric and comes from the Latin word, meaning "invention" or "discovery"...
See also: Disposition Dispositio is the system used for the organization of arguments in Western classical rhetoric. The word is Latin, and can be translated as "organization" or "arrangement."...
Memoria was the term for aspects involving memory in Western classical rhetoric. The word is Latin, and can be translated as "memory."It was one of five canons in classical rhetoric concerned with the crafting and delivery of speeches and prose.The art of rhetoric grew out of oratory, which was...
, and pronuntiatio
Pronuntiatio was the discipline of delivering speeches in Western classical rhetoric. It is the one of five canons of classical rhetoric that concern the crafting and delivery of speeches. In literature the equivalent of ancient pronuntiatio is the recitation of epics Pronuntiatio was the...
) that concern the crafting and delivery of speeches and writing. Beginning in the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...
, writers increasingly emphasized the stylistic aspects of rhetoric over the other divisions of rhetoric.
An orator or writer had a number of things to decide in developing a style for a particular discourse. First, there was the level of style; plain (attenuata
), middle (mediocris
), or high (florida
). Writers were instructed to match the basic style to their subject matter and their audience. For instance, Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...
in his Institutio Oratoria
deemed the plain style suitable for instruction, the middle for moving oration, and the high for charming discourse. Today, we associate elocution and rhetoric with the last of these styles, but for rhetoricians, each style was useful in rhetoric.
The ancient authors agreed that the four ingredients necessary in order to achieve good style included correctness, clearness, appropriateness, and ornament.
Sometimes translated as “purity”, correctness meant that rhetors should use words that were current and should adhere to the grammatical rules of whatever language they wrote. Correctness rules are standards of grammar and usage drawn from traditional grammar.
In regard to clarity, most ancient teachers felt that clarity meant that rhetors should use words in their ordinary or everyday senses. The object of clarity was to allow meaning to “shine through”, like light through a window.
Appropriateness probably derives from the Greek rhetorical notion to prepon
, meaning to say or do whatever is fitting in a given situation. Ancient teachers taught that close attention to kairos will help to determine the appropriate style.
The last and most important of the excellences of style is ornament, which is defined as extraordinary or unusual use of language. Ornamentation was divided into three broad categories: figures of speech, figures of thought, and tropes. Figures of speech are any artful patterning or arrangement of language. Figures of thought are artful presentations of ideas, feelings, concepts; figures of thought that depart from the ordinary patterns of argument. Tropes are any artful substitution of one term for another.
A great amount of attention was paid to figures of speech
A figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning. It can also be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile,...
, which were classified into various types and sub-types. One Renaissance writer, Henry Peacham
Henry Peacham is the name shared by two English Renaissance writers who were father and son.The elder Henry Peacham was an English curate, best known for his treatise on rhetoric titled The Garden of Eloquence first published in 1577....
, enumerated 184 different figures of speech, although it could be argued that this was a manifestation of the increasing over-emphasis on style that began in the Renaissance.
Also important to elocutio
were subjects we would generally regard as grammatical: the proper use of punctuation and conjunctions; the desirable order of words in a sentence (unlike English, many languages are not as dependent on word order to establish relationships between words, and so choices of word order may revolve more around form than function); and the length of sentences.