TERMINOLOGY for AP LANGUAGE & COMPOSITION
Rhetoric is the art of using language to manipulate or persuade, to make your point seem reasonable and
compelling. Skilled rhetoricians use language as part of their appeals to logic (logos), emotion (pathos),
and ethos. “Ethos” refers to the means by which the speaker/writer establishes herself/himself as someone
we will trust and believe in.
As good critical readers, we learn to recognize these terms and to understand their effects in the work we
are reading. By understanding how the effects of these terms contribute to a writer/speaker‟s rhetorical
purpose, we more fully understand the intended effect of the work.
I. ARGUMENTATION (THE USE OF LOGIC TO PROVE A POINT)
*Assertion/claim (noun)/ assert (verb): Assertions are opinions stated as facts—the basis of all
arguments. Assertions are always arguable. Another word for an assertion that controls an argument is
“America has long had a love affair with violence and guns”(x). Canada begins his book by claiming, or
asserting that an important part of America‟s experience has been their love of violence and guns. He
supports this claim by citing examples from our history (the American Revolution, the Wild West, and so on)
in which guns and violence played a major role.
*Generalizations: an assertion about a group or class which implies that every member of this group or
class shares a common characteristic. Subjective generalizations depend on personal attitudes and
cannot be logically proven (ice cream is better than pie). Objective or probable generalizations are true
in most cases but not all, and are useful in argumentation.
Canada‟s comment above is a probable generalization because lots of support exists in American history;
still, it is a generalization because you can always find Americans who hate guns.
*Assumption/unspoken assumption (noun): a supposed “fact” that is actually never proved. The
assumption may be part of a speaker‟s belief system.
In the above quote, Canada assumes that the role of guns in American history comes about because
Americans love guns. Another assumption (or belief system) might be that guns are simply necessary for
defense against outside threats.
*Qualification (noun): to modify, restrict or limit. A qualification of an assertion or claim means that you
agree in part, or you wish to redefine or reshape the assertion.
If you were asked your opinion of Canada‟s assertion, or claim, you might agree that guns have held an
important place in the defense of America, but that “love affair” is too strong a term to describe Americans‟
feelings for guns. So you would express your opinion as a qualification of Canada‟s argument: while it is
true that guns have played an important part in American history, the reason is not Americans‟ love for guns
but rather their desire for safety and security.
*Issue: a debatable question that gives rise to different positions or stances. A current issue that concerns
Americans is what our role in Iraq should be. The Bush administration‟s stance or position is that we must
use our military strength to achieve a democratic government.
An issue Canada addresses in his book is human nature: “As an adult I have heard many times the debate
about whether violence is part of the human makeup or a learned behavior”(23).
*Speaker’s Stance: a “stance” is a position, where you stand on an issue. You might, for example,
disagree with Bush‟s stance on Iraq and believe instead that we should withdraw our troops. That belief,
then, would be your stance.
Canada asserts his stance on the issue of violence in human nature: “There is no way that I can buy the
theory that humans have some genetic predisposition to violence. I know better. . . . My initial belief that
violence is learned has been reinforced by years of counseling and teaching children and adolescents in
inner-city neighborhoods in Boston and New York”(23).
*Rebuttal/Refutation(nouns) rebut/refute (verbs): an opposing argument; a contradiction. To prove an
Canada cites the common solutions proposed to end violence in our society: “tougher sentencing for youth
caught with guns, . . . boot camp programs, quick fix conflict mediation . . . “(68). But he rebuts or refutes
the idea that these solutions will solve the problem , pointing out that “the death toll continues to rise” and
that that current policies “fail to address the problem of the sheer availability of guns”(68).
*Hypothesis (noun): an unproved theory, proposition or supposition.
Near the end of his book, Canada makes a hypothesis that “Peace officers could bring a whole new
approach to violence prevention” in crime-ridden neighborhoods. He is attempting to prove this hypothesis
by establishing communities within Harlem.
*Speculation(noun) speculate(verb): A guess about what may happen in the future.
In his plans to save Harlem, Canada speculates that the cost of educating young people about drugs will be
offset by the savings in incarcerations(162).
*Objective: without personal bias or prejudice.
When Canada argues that “in some cities more than forty percent of minority youth who want to work can‟t
find employment”(162), his evidence from the New York City Office of the Comptroller shows the reader that
this is an objective remark, based on fact.
*Subjective: conclusions based on personal feelings/prejudice or bias.
Canada retells many of the incidents from his childhood from a subjective point of view, revealing his hurt,
confusion and frustrations in learning the “codes of conduct” in his neighborhood.
*Recapitulate: to repeat briefly; to summarize. Often when you write an argument essay or give a speech,
you recapitulate, or sum up your points, in your conclusion.
After describing his experience as a teacher with some difficult students (Ch. 4), Canada
recapitulates by comparing these students to those he had grown up with in the Bronx and restating his
claim that “Violence is a learned response”(28).
II. RHETORICAL STRATEGIES: Any tools used by the author to make his/her point
more convincing. Rhetorical strategies help the author to make his claim (Logos)
more convincing by appealing to Pathos and Ethos.
*Appeals to authority: using the endorsement , approval or voice of an authority to make an argument
seem more convincing. When students voice their opinions in a synthesis essay, they often quote from
authority figures to support their opinions.
Canada argues that our war on drugs has been a failure. To make this argument more convincing, he
appeals to authority by quoting an academic study by Jerome G. Miller who did much research on the effect
of laws on the amount of drug sales on the streets(130).
*Anecdote: the retelling of a brief incident that may illustrate or prove a point made in an argument.
Canada begins his book with the incident of the lost jacket which his mother insisted his brother go back and
get(Ch. 1). With this anecdote he provides the foundation for his argument that the streets of the Bronx
required special “codes of conduct.”
*Dilemma: a conflict whose resolution requires one of two choices, both of which are unfavorable or
disagreeable. For example, a teen-ager may have to decide which parent to live with, realizing that either
choice will cause pain. A false dilemma occurs when a speaker oversimplifies a complex situation so that it
seems that only two choices are presented. Example: America: love it or leave it. The choice of staying in
American but working for change is not presented as an option.
Canada tells us of the dilemma he faced as a parent after his daughter was attacked on the school bus: If
he taught her to be peaceful, which he believed in, she would be a victim to crueler children. But if he taught
her to be a fighter, he would be contributing to the violent world he hated (6-7).
*Invective: an emotionally violent attack, using strong and critical language, on an inividual or an institution.
Canada ends his book with an emotional criticism of those who fail to help poor children. In this invective,
he speaks of “monsters” who “deprive them (children) of heat in the winter, . . . don‟t fix their sinks and
toilets, . . . let garbage pile up in their hallways, . . . kick them out of their homes, . . . beat them, . . . shoot
them, . . . stab them . . . rape their bodies and their minds”(178).
*Rhetorical Question: a question asked to make a point. The speaker/writer already knows the answer to
the question, and he asks the question to remind his audience of this answer.
In his first encounter with the police, Canada learns that they expect and accept the level of violence that
occurs in his neighborhood. He imagines the police asking a rhetorical question: “What‟s the matter with
you people, don‟t you know where you live?” Obviously, the people know where they live. The police use
this question to remind the inhabitants of the ghetto that violence is part of their world.
*Juxtaposition: a device by which a writer or speaker juxtaposes, or places two items side by side. This is
done to create an ironic contrast or effect. A famous photograph from the Depression shows a long line of
men waiting for bread who are standing in front of a billboard that says, “America, Land of Opportunity.” The
picture of men who are out of work and must rely on food hand-outs is juxtaposed with the message that
America provides opportunities for all.
When Canada and his co-workers find the building they wish to convert into the Beacon community center,
Canada juxtaposes the description of a “woman nodding from heroin on the old coach” with his dream that
this building could “transform the community”(134). The ironic contrast of the visible effect of the ruin of the
neighborhood with the idealistic dream for its revival enhances our understanding of the challenge Canada
*Paradox: a reconciliation of opposites; a true statement that seems contradictory. Example:“It was the
best of times; it was the worst of times” (Dickens Tale of Two Cities). Dickens points out that the historical
time of his novel had both positive and negative qualities co-existing.
Canada‟s reasoning for teaching martial arts to his neighborhood children represents a paradox because it
seems to be contradictory. He explains this contradiction or paradox:
“I knew it seemed counter-intuitive that teaching young people how to punch, kick, and defend themselves
would reduce violence.” He goes on to reconcile the seeming contradiction by pointing out that those with
the confidence martial arts brings are more able to resist fighting.
*Oxymoron: a two-word expression of seeming contradiction. (jumbo shrimp, deafening silence)
Canada says of his friend who didn‟t like to fight: “Butchie was a gentle giant”(16).
The meaning of “gentle” contrasts with our accepted notion of a “giant” as a powerful figure of strength.
*Antithesis: the contrast of opposites within parallel clauses or phrases.
Canada uses antithesis to point out the contrast between his innocent belief that the police would help him
and his growing awareness that they didn‟t care about people in his neighborhood: “It was nothing they did,
it was what they didn‟t do”(14).
*Textual Irony: a writer or speaker says one thing but actually means something else. The reader/listener
gets the actual or ironic meaning from tone and context.
As Canada concludes the anecdote about the boy with ringworm, he ends his chapter by saying “I thought I
had worked out all of the violence and fear issues in my life”(11). The reader recognizes this comment as
ironic because of Canada‟s strong focus on the problem of violence at the beginning of the book. Canada‟s
intended meaning is to point out, ironically, that he will continue to face violence.
*Theme: the universal truth. This may be a truth about human nature, nature itself, and/or society.
Themes are truths about human experience that are timeless—they apply to everyone in every place at
One of Canada‟s themes, which he develops with his idea of neighborhoods being “jungles” with “codes of
conduct” based on survival, is that human beings who must learn to survive in a cruel environment will lose
*Hyperbole (overstatement): a deliberate exaggeration for effect. One nature writer said of the screech
owl, that if it could, it would devour the whole world. This, obviously, is an exaggeration; its effect is to
emphasize the danger of this owl.
Canada‟s description of boys at his school who were like “hungry sharks at a feeding frenzy” (which is also a
simile) is hyperbole or overstatement. Through exaggeration (not every single boy was as dangerous as a
hungry shark) we understand how scared and vulnerable Canada felt at the school.
*Litotes (understatement): deliberately representing something as less than it is in order to create a
Canada relates an incident which begins with the claiming of a basketball and escalates into the
confrontation of a man with a gun. He watches as the older boys reach for their knives and face down an
opponent who has a much more powerful weapon. Later, when Geoffrey wants to talk about this incident,
Mike and Junior deliberately understate the severity of what happened: „“He was an asshole. Forget
it.”‟(42). Their use of litotes or understatement is meant to teach an important lesson: you must keep your
emotions under control in order to survive on the streets.
*Tone: the author‟s attitude toward his/her material and/or his/er audience. Tone Shifts frequently occur in
complex passages and are often clues to meaning. Identifying the tone or tones of a passage is an
essential critical reading skill.
When Geoffrey tries to avoid fighting, the older boys speak to him in a taunting tone: „“You scared?” “You
scared of everybody bigga than you. Alan‟s bigga than you, you scared of him?”‟(38).
Often, Canada‟s tone becomes didactic, or preachy, as he points out what society must do to solve the
problem of violence: “The only way we are going to make a difference is by placing well-trained and caring
adults in the middle of what can only be called a free-fire zone in our poorest communities. Adults standing
side by side with children in the war zones o America is the only way to turn this thing around”(109).
*Figurative Language(metaphor, simile/analogy, personification): language that asks us to imagine, or
“see” one thing (schools) as something else (gladiator societies). Canada creates a particular effect about
the schools that gives the reader a particular impression: they are places where you must fight to survive.
*Metaphor: a direct comparison, sometimes implied
Canada described metaphorically a teen-age girl killed by a bullet as if she were a piece of material: „The
bullet entered her head, killing her instantly, leaving her draped on the fence”(1). The image of the girl
“draped” on the fence emphasizes her lifelessness.
*Simile: an indirect comparison using “like” or “as”
Canada uses a simile to compare the boys in his new schools to sharks: “These boys were like hungry
sharks in a feeding frenzy”(32). This simile emphasizes the fear he felt in such an environment.
*Analogy: a more developed simile
Canada uses an analogy to show how parents often fear for their children‟s safety: “Many of them see their
child as a fawn penned in amongst lion cubs. They know that the cubs will scratch and bite, eventually even
kill the fawn”(8).
*Personification: giving life to inanimate objects
Canada writes that children “live in a world where danger lurks all around them”(178).
The verb “lurks” implies human intention; to lurk is to stay hidden until it is time to attack. Canada
personifies danger as a living force.
*Symbol: A figure that represents an abstract idea. Through visualization, we better understand an
abstract idea. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird, an innocent bird who hurts nothing, represents Tom
Canada makes the gun a symbol of the explosion of violence in our poor neighborhoods. As a gun is
threatening to life, the threat of violence which it represents promises to destroy the future of our young
children if, Canada argues, we do not take a stand.
*Imagery: language that appeals to any of the five senses. Example: the snow is velvety appeals to our
sense of touch.
Canada uses vivid imagery to describe his daughter‟s face after her attack: “Another little girl on the bus
had started bullying her and had ended up raking her face with her fingernails, leaving a set of four bloody
trails down Melina‟s face”(7). We feel both the physical and emotional pain of this disfigurement because of
Canada‟s imagery, and we share in his outrage as a parent.
*Connotation: words that have an emotional power or are strongly suggestive. “Throne” has a stronger
connotation than “chair”; “mother” has a stronger connotation than “person.”
Canada writes that “The handgun had replaced the fist or knife as the weapon of choice. The codes of
conduct on the streets across the nation were about to undergo a major and lethal shift”(81). “Lethal” has
the connotation, or suggestion, of something that is extremely threatening to life. By using the word “lethal”
to describe the changing rules on the street, Canada develops his argument that guns are destroying
America‟s poorer neighborhoods.
*Concrete details: specific nouns, verbs and modifiers that allow the reader or listener to visualize exactly
what the speaker/writer depicts.
At the conclusion of his book, Canada asks our leaders to “look into the eyes of the five-year-olds of this
nation, dressed in old raggedy clothes, whose zippers are broken but whose dreams are still alive”(178).
Rather than generalizing about poor children, Canada‟s concrete details bring to life a particular child, five
years old, with a broken zipper. With this specific picture he hopes to achieve his rhetorical purpose, which
is to motivate leaders to take action.
*Allusions: indirect references to works, events or figures that the author assumes the reader is familiar
with. The most commonly alluded to works are the Bible and Greek/Roman mythology. A writer also may
allude to historical fact or to common cultural knowledge.
Canada refers to his neighborhood on Union Avenue as paradise, but then writes that “Paradise didn‟t last
long”(14). This allusion refers to the Christian concept of Paradise as a perfect place with no conflict (the
Garden of Eden).
*Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words in order to emphasize these
words (the day of his death was a deep dark day) or to create a particular mood (Peter Piper picked a peck
of pickled peppers—silly or humorous).
Canada writes of Mayor David Dinkins, who had “dedicated his life to saving poor children in Harlem and in
other pockets of poverty”108. Repetition of the “p” sound connects the words “poor” to “pockets” of
“poverty”. This alliteration emphasizes these words ; the reader must notice the deep areas (pockets)
containing poor children. This alliteration thus contributes to Canada‟s purpose in compelling the reader to
concentrate on this societal problem.
*Onomatopoeia: words that sound like what they are. These words create energy in a written or spoken
piece and emphasize a particular action or the force of an incident.
Canada remembers that the young boys were sometimes allowed contact with the older ones, but often
were run off with a “smack upside the head”(38). The word “smack” sounds like an actual hit on the skin,
and the occurrence of frequent smacks even among those of the same circle illustrates the harsh codes of
conduct in the neighborhood.
The examples illustrating these terms are taken from the memoir Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada.