Book Review: Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, Bd. 10

Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik [A Historical Dictionary of Rhetoric], Vol. 10 (Nachtraege A-Z), Ed. Gert Ueding. De Gruyter: Berlin/Boston. 2011. 149,95 € / $210.00 

— Reviewed by Josef Schmidt, McGill University

This penultimate volume (an index volume No. 11 is still to follow) is a supplement/addendum to the collection. It serves, according to the editors, four functions. Most importantly, as a receptacle for items whose full significance only became apparent during the work in progress and had to be further developed, e.g. “Argumentum” in addition to “Argument/Argumentation” of vol. 1. It also serves as a final parking space for exotic items, the inclusion of late submissions, and entries that had been found wanting and needed revisions (Preface, vi.). Most of the articles are of the shorter format; “research” articles are rare.

As for exotic items, the entry on “Klatsch” (gossip, 447ff.) is instructive on why, and how, we gossip. There is also a global item, “Koreanische Rhetorik” (496ff.), informing us of the state of affairs of rhetoric in other cultures. The other categories of entries mentioned above cannot be discovered by second guessing.

Several entries entreat reading by their sheer titles. For example, “Krisenrhetorik” (the rhetoric of dealing with crisis, 511 ff.) has a pedigree stemming back to antiquity as uncertainty between res dubia and res certa (doubtful and factual issues). Or the “ordinary lie” (589 ff.) shows a disturbing truth: that apart from gender-relating skills we seem to start practicing it already at age three!

There are other items that make for entertaining reading, e.g. “Anglizismus.” German is very susceptible to incorporating foreign terms into everyday use, especially English terms. The popular jargon key word is “Denglisch,” which in our Canadian context would be the equivalent of “franglais.”

“Internet-Rhetorik” (410ff.) tries to do the impossible: to characterize modern electronic forms of communication by linking them to traditional forms of messages. With Teutonic systematization, the new communication reality is categorized; Marshall McLuhan is prominently absent from the deliberation.

Two other items I found very instructive: “Performanz” (839-859) is a useful primer to rethink Austin’s speech-act theory. “Rhetorische Raeume” (rhetorical spaces, 1099 ff.) takes you on a walking tour through our Western tradition from the Athenian agora to the Palazzo Publico in Renaissance Siena and to the Florentine Signoria (ironically prohibiting the access of women to municipal discourse!).

The volume is a treasure in that one has a unique reading experience: many known facts are presented through a rhetorical perspective, making the project live up to its initial promise, that is, to provide an exhaustive dictionary of all things rhetorical.

See the publisher’s website for more information and online previews:
Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik. [A Historical Dictionary of Rhetoric.]

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