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A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms Second Edition Edition

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520076693
ISBN-10: 0520076699
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Editorial Reviews


"The prose is wonderfully lucid, and the commentary is sensitive to the relationships not only between the traditions of rhetoric and recent developments in literature studies but also between rhetoric and the role of electronic technologies in formulating new notions of argument and textuality."--"Choice

About the Author

Richard A. Lanham is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, and President of Rhetorica, Inc., in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Second Edition edition (December 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520076699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520076693
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard A. Lanham: Life and Work


I went to the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and to Yale University. After taking my A.B. degree in English from Yale, I served a two-year stint in the U.S.Army and then worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington before returning to Yale for my Ph.D. I began teaching at Dartmouth, moved to the English Department at UCLA in 1965, and remained there for the rest of my career.


My teaching life found its center in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and literary rhetoric from classical Greece to the present day. From my earliest days at Dartmouth, also, I took a keen interest in student writing. I taught composition courses both at Dartmouth and at UCLA, and in 1979 I started the UCLA Writing Programs. The Programs began with thirty full-time lecturers hired in a single year, and they developed a set of pioneering courses across the curriculum. Many of the lecturers in the Programs have gone on to distinguished teaching, administrative, and business careers, both at UCLA and elsewhere. I've told the story of this start-up adventure in a chapter of my Literacy and the Survival of Humanism.


Where did my books come from? My scholarly career began with the Yale Press publication of my Ph.D. dissertation (Sidney's Original Arcadia) on rhetorical language in an Elizabethan prose romance. In my teaching I found that I was often using the Latin and Greek terms for rhetorical figures, and that students needed a guide to these terms. I started with a two-page list and this led to a longer list and finally to A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, which has been in print since 1967, in two editions, at the University of California Press. The book sets out the fundamental rules of formal rhetoric and has served many readers as an outline introduction to the subject.
From my interest in composition emerged a series of books and videos: Revising Prose, Revising Business Prose, The Revising Prose Video, The Revising Business Prose Video, Analyzing Prose, and Style: An Anti-Textbook.
From my literary teaching came: The Motives of Eloquence; Tristram Shandy: The Games of Pleasure; and a series of essays, Literacy and the Survival of Humanism, all of which explored the role of classical rhetoric in Western literature.
In the early 1980's, I became interested in how the written word was moving from the page to the computer screen, a transition I discussed in The Electronic Word. The volatility of the word on an electronic screen--its ability to move around, change shape, size, color, disappear and reappear, continually reach out to establish new connections--suggested different ways for writing to work, new ways that seemed to emerge spontaneously from an ever-changing medium.
This ever-changing electronic mixture led me to ponder spontaneous, emergent systems of order in other areas of life; biological evolution; its replication within computers--often called "artificial life"; problem-solving through computer-based evolution rather than propositional thinking; and, of course, the oldest of spontaneously evolving systems--markets. I pondered how classical rhetoric describes such a world in my The Economics of Attention, arguing that rhetoric supplied a fundamental economics for an information society such as ours. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006, it won the Media Ecology Association's Erving Goffman Award.

Visiting Appointments.

I have been an NEH Senior Fellow, a Senior Fellow in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan, the 1994 International Scholar at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., and, in 1995, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Tulane University. In 2001-02, as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured and met with students and faculty in two-day visits to nine U.S. college campuses

Recent assignments.

In 2010 I delivered the keynote address at the Council of Independent Colleges conference on how best to use the internet in undergraduate research. Also in 2010, I spoke at the Rochester Institute of Technology symposium on "The Future of Reading." And in March of 2012 I was a featured speaker at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Moonlight Job.

Since 1971, I have also acted as a literary consultant and expert witness in over sixty copyright cases in the television and motion picture business. I have worked on cases involving King Kong, Jaws, Shampoo, Earthquake, Star Wars, Superman, and many other films. My television credits in this line of endeavor include The A-Team and Falcon Crest. Most recently I acted as an expert witness in a case involving a PETA campaign.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Stacey Cochran on February 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
Over the Christmas holidays, I traveled back east to visit my parents. I carried Lanham's "A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms." One night my mom and I sat up talking about everything from Picasso to metaphysics and at some point we got to talking about Shakespeare. I tried to explain to her why Shakespeare is rhetorically reveered, and at one point I climbed downstairs to the guest room and retrieved Lanham's book. She -- like most of us -- hears the word "rhetoric" and thinks of politicians and empty promises, or phrasing so complicated as to render simple fact obscure.
I think the first word in "Handlist" we got a chuckle over was "chiasmus" and some of the examples like "It's not whether grapenuts are good enough for you, but whether you're good enough for grapenuts!" And the famous "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." The one that gave her the best chuckle though was an editor's advice to a young writer "You're writing is both original and interesting; unfortunately the part that's original is not interesting and the part that is interesting is not original."
The great thing about this book is that it gives name to a great many devices we already use in everyday speech, and for a writer this information is invaluable. The better facility a writer has with these devices the better he or she can express our endless human emotions.
A good many of the examples give the Latin or Greek root word, but the definitions are in English. Many of them have example usage along with the definition.
E.g., "Insultatio": derisive, ironical abuse of a person to his face. As Hamlet says to his mother:
Look on this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By George R Dekle on January 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Samuel Butler once wrote that "All a rhetorician's rules teach nothing but to name his tools." Classical and Medieval rhetoricians named, renamed, parsed, and cataloged all these tools with a bewildering sesquipedalian nomenclature. "Handlist" almost succeeds in its attempt to make sense of this thorny thicket of jargon.
Chapter 1 of "Handlist" is a dictionary style listing of all the various names of the rhetorical devices. Each name is individually entered, but only the main name is defined. Each of the lesser names simply has cross references. The merely-cross-referenced names outnumber the actually-defined names by about 3 to 1. The actually-defined names should have been set in a bolder type than the merely-cross-referenced names.
Chapter 2 consists of an excellent review of the divisions of rhetoric. Read Chapter 2 first.
Chapter 3 takes the more common rhetorical devices and catalogs them by type, giving brief definitions. It catalogs only one name for each device, and is much more user friendly than Chapter 1. Read Chapter 3 second.
My suggestion for the third edition: Reorder the chapters. Put Chapter 2 first and Chapter 1 last.
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Hardie on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
It's hard to describe how valuable this book is. Simply put, it changed my life. The title is both perfect and a little misleading: yes, it's a handlist, but that gives little sense of the breadth and scholarship of Lanham's work. Yes, you'll find incredibly useful definitions of the most recondite, as well as the most everyday, tropes and schemes. But embedded within his exposition Lanham gives us an argument for rhetoric: its complexity, historical richness, and value. Lanham's touch is very personal, offering a collection of definitions that are at once eclectic and definitive. If you need to buy one book on rhetoric, this should be it. If it intrigues you as much as it did me, follow up with Lanham's _The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts_. There you'll see the very practical implications of the study of rhetoric framed through historical and theoretical debates. Two thumbs up.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
I keep 5 reference books on writing w/in arms reach of my desk; this is one of them. The book catalogs every rhetorical flourish I've ever heard of, provides vivid examples of each, and witty and insightful commentary on many of them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mike Smith on October 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book--this excellent book--puts a name on just about every literary device, rhetorical term, and classical trope a writer could ever use, and by doing so allows writers and fans of the English language an opportunity to become more aware of what they write and more attuned to how their writing can be improved.
If you fancy yourself a writer, you need this. Get it. Now.
The book is well-organized, easily acccessible, loaded with great quotes, and a treasure trove of unique terms and devices. Some of these you've no doubt used and will be happy to hear these labeled and defined. Others will be new to you but will certainly be of use to you in the future. Chiasmus, anyone?
This was assigned as a textbook for Jerome Shea's classical tropes class at the University of New Mexico, but I would never even consider selling this back at the end of the year. Having been introduced to this, I can no more imagine my writing den without it than I can imagine it without a dictionary or a thesaurus or a hidden drawer full of treats.
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