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The Beginning and the End of The Silver Tongue

March 1, 2018

In September 2010, several Carnegie Mellon graduate students in rhetoric, Doug Cloud, Hilary Franklin, Alexis Teagarden and Matt Zebrowski, started this blog called The Silver Tongue. During this time, blogging was still new and popular and unbridled optimism was still held by many over the election of Barack Obama.  TST was a smart source of observations on political, environmental, and pop culture topics.  Rhetorical theory provided the source for this insight because our founders believed, and we still do, that rhetoricians must remain engaged publically in issues and events that affect our communities. The TST founders described rhetoric this way:

“We…believe that rhetoric is the way things get done in a democracy, that communication and persuasion are desirable alternatives to force. We cannot solve social problems without understanding, and we cannot achieve understanding without rhetoric. Of course, rhetoric can be can be used to deceive, too, and it frequently is. It can be a force for good or deception, depending on who’s using it.”

This belief holds true more than ever within this current political climate, which is characterized by contentious issues like the ending of DACA, the resurgence of overt white nationalism in the US and in Europe, continuing debates over climate change reality and policy….   We need public scholars to help make sense of it all.  With over 300 posts on this site from numerous writers, TST has been an important part of public conversations for the past seven years.

But to remain effective in this task, it is now time for a reboot.  We are taking the mission of TST in a new direction, with new technologies, and with a new name.  The Silver Tongue is now being transformed into Re:Verb – the new site can be found here.

This new podcast will engage the listener on current issues from a critical perspective. We envision this as a site where scholars of language, culture, and rhetoric can share insights on contemporary issues in ways that engage and interest a broader public. Acknowledging the many ways that “engagement” with issues may take shape — as commentary, scholarship, conversation, creation, and for some, even strategic disengagementRe:Verb embraces multiple humanistic perspectives, modalities, and ways of “talking about talk.”  

We look forward to receiving your suggestions on topics and hope you like the new site and the new changes.   

Standing Rock and Place-As-Rhetoric

December 9, 2016


In terms of history, the protests in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Cannonball, North Dakota aren’t new. Go ahead and take a moment to tab over to your local news service site, type the word “protest” in the search bar, and see what happens. If you need further proof, I’ve even mentioned pipelines protests before on this very site.

So what is so interesting about this protest in particular? Let’s talk about place Read more…

Concussions, Climate, and Cause/Effect

August 4, 2016

Let’s try a thought experiment. Please read the following statement then continue on for some questions.

“That may or may not prove to be true, but we can’t say for sure as there is not a clear scientific link between X and Y.”

Take a moment to ponder.

Now, what did you fill in for X and Y? Read more…

Check Out these Guns: Concealed Carry, the Second Amendment, and the Firearm as an Organ

July 12, 2016

Recently, I read an article within which the author wrote on disarmament as form of dismemberment. While the article was not academic in nature, it did cause me to think about the Second Amendment in relation to the human body.

This article is one through which I hope to start a conversation about the relations between the overwhelming amount of legislation geared toward increased “gun rights” (one of these alleged rights is that of concealed carry of a firearm) and the rhetoric surrounding the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Second Amendment has historically and is currently being used as a rhetorical device that “pro-gun” activists, lobbyists, and politicians have used to either consciously or unconsciously assert that the firearm is a type of bodily organ, an essential part of the human body.

Read more…

Ethos and the Rhetoric of “Blackness”

July 8, 2016

Last week Grey Anatomy’s actor Jesse Williams gave a passionate speech about several aspects of being Black in America after receiving BET’s humanitarian awards.   In addition to talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, he also implored Black to people to drop materialism and become more involved in the current civil rights struggle.  His speech was praised by many in the African American community and shared throughout social media.  However, there was a segment of the Black community who questioned both the authenticity and authority of Williams to give this speech because he is biracial with light skin and blue eyes. Read more…

The challenges of testing for “Readiness”

June 9, 2016

One summer I agreed to be on a triathlon team with my sister and her husband. She would do the swimming, her husband would do the running, and I would do the biking. Just one problem: at the time I did not have a bike. Nor had I ever biked a distance anywhere near what I would have to do in the race.

But I did, on occasion, jog a few miles, and we thought it would be fun. Plus I had the resources to buy a bike and a few months to get in shape. Did I have triathlon readiness? Or, as I’m framing it, did I have the ability to re-invent myself into an acceptable triathlon biker?

To answer that question, I had to just do it and see. There were no tests that could reliably predict my readiness.

I wasn’t the only one interested in readiness. Our current public education standards want students to learn College and Career Readiness. And this may sound great, but how does one determine something like ‘Readiness’?

Read more…

Is Internet Freedom Dying? The Cost of Bearing Witness

June 1, 2016

Please forgive the ambiguity of the title; it stems from personal frustration rather than a desire to entice readers. This article began as an attempt to talk about a recent incident in which Jessikka Aro, a Finnish journalist, asked her audience to share their stories of encounters with the pro-Russian “troll army.”

But from there, I was Alice.

The research led down a dystopian rabbit hole, and I fell past scenes that ran the gamut from the 3 year prison sentences for Al-Jazeera English journalists to the four hundred-million-plus propaganda posts generated by the Chinese government-sponsored 50 cent army. The looking glass, it seems, was darker than I remembered.

The more I hear about the opportunities of our connected world, the more I simultaneously hear about the terrors it induces. And I wonder, what are the rewards for speaking up? What is the cost of bearing witness? Read more…

Trump: King of the Ad Hominem

March 14, 2016

On March 3rd, Mitt Romney made an impassioned speech at the University of Utah. What’s interesting about the speech was its rhetorical purpose: Don’t Vote For Trump.

It’s something we don’t see too often. Most public figures give speeches for the purpose of endorsing a particular candidate, so it was interesting to see the opposite: someone coming out specifically to oppose a particular candidate. Though Romney mentions several other GOP hopefuls, he never specifically endorses one in particular—more recently he’s joined the Kasich campaign—but simply states that he would choose any of them over Trump. He also sticks to foreign and domestic policy issues for the most part, though he attacks Trump’s reputation as a businessman (“phony”) and potential leader (“flimsy”).

And this, too, makes his speech unique, in that it was largely free of what has become the hallmark of this campaign season: ad hominem attacks.

Read more…

3 Assumptions to Avoid Making about Women this Election Season

February 19, 2016

Politics are nearly unavoidable this time of year. In the last few months, the GOP and Democratic candidates have spoken at rallies, held town halls, and participated in debates (sometimes not so well). Amidst the political scene, I often find myself in discussions with friends and colleagues about who’s said what and the extent to which we agree. In these conversations there inevitably comes a moment where some form of criticism is brought against a candidate. Perhaps not surprisingly, some reproach is often directed toward one of the Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, on several occasions a male in the group, gesturing in my direction, will suddenly rein in their criticism of Clinton with, “Oh—sorry, no offense.”

This does not offend me. Often their arguments are well reasoned and to my mind make no personal attacks. Why then, would they think I might be offended? While my own work has considered Clinton as a case study to examine issues of identity and representation in the media, more often than not the people from whom these statements come are not aware of that fact. So what is it? Why do they assume I would be offended?

Without realizing it, assumptions like these are frequently made in political and everyday discourse—particularly in relation to women. Interactions such as the one described above represent just one instance where the taken-for-granted can cause confusion, and sometimes disagreement. In this presidential election, it’s difficult to go a day without hearing something about who I should vote for, so I’d like to break down a few assumptions that are often made about female voters:

Read more…

Marco Rubio’s debate blockage: repetitive rhetoric and bullshit

February 10, 2016

You may have been watching the Republican debate on February 6th and felt a moment of déjà vu while listening to Marco Rubio rail on Barack Obama. If you didn’t watch the debate, you likely have heard of Rubio’s “glitch” as it’s been dubbed (and mocked by a Twitter account, Marco Rubio Glitch). This suggests Rubio has been revealed to be robotic, programmed or that he is otherwise non-human. Rubio’s repetition of almost exactly the same line four times (and twice in a matter of minutes under pressure from Chris Christie), pulled back the curtain on the difference between rhetoric and pure bullshit.

Repetition is a powerful rhetorical strategy that, explained by any rhetorician’s best buds, Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, increases the feeling of presence in an audience. Done well, repetition sticks in our heads like the chorus of “Who Let the Dogs Out” has been stuck in mine for the past fifteen years. Political oratory would lose one of its most powerful rhetorical devices without repetition. Think to our most famous American speeches: MLK, Jr’s “I Have a Dream,” and FDR’s “I Hate War,” for example. In Obama’s 2011 jobs bill speech, he repeated the line, “Pass this jobs bill” eight times (found, surprisingly, in a rhetorical analysis of the speech on Of course, advertisers also know well the power of repetition, doing whatever they can to make a jingle stick, and this lesson can be deployed in many other situations where we seek to gain the adherence of minds (as George Costanza knows well).

So why did Rubio’s repetition fail so miserably?

Read more…