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Accusatio Adversa

Updated Jan 3, 2023

The Power of Accusatio Adversa: A Rhetorical Device that Persuades and Provokes


In the realm of persuasive communication, the effective use of rhetorical devices can significantly impact the success of an argument. One such device that has stood the test of time is accusatio adversa, a powerful technique that involves turning an opponent's arguments against them. In this article, we will explore the concept of accusatio adversa, its historical significance, and provide some compelling examples of this rhetorical device in action.

Understanding Accusatio Adversa

Accusatio adversa, also known as "turning the tables," is a rhetorical device that involves refuting or disproving an opponent's arguments by using those very arguments against them. By cleverly adopting the opposing viewpoint, accusers can highlight contradictions, hypocrisy, or weaknesses in their opponent's position, ultimately persuading the audience to reconsider their initial stance.

This technique requires a deep understanding of the opponent's argument and the ability to anticipate their counterarguments. By preemptively addressing and dismantling these counterarguments, the accuser gains credibility and increases the persuasiveness of their own argument.

Historical Significance

Accusatio adversa has a long and rich history in the realm of rhetoric and debate. Its roots can be traced back to ancient Rome, where it was a popular technique employed by orators to sway public opinion and win court cases. Famous Roman orators such as Cicero were known for their adept use of accusatio adversa, which often involved skillfully exposing the flaws in their opponent's arguments.

Throughout history, accusatio adversa has also been used in various political and social contexts. From political debates to courtroom dramas, this rhetorical device has the power to captivate audiences and shape public opinion. By undermining an opponent's credibility, accusers can gain the upper hand and influence others to adopt their viewpoint.

Examples of Accusatio Adversa

To truly understand the impact of accusatio adversa, let's delve into some notable examples where this device was employed effectively:

Example 1: Political Debates

During a heated political debate, Candidate A accuses Candidate B of being soft on crime. Candidate B skillfully employs accusatio adversa by responding, "If we want to talk about being soft on crime, let's not forget Candidate A's questionable record on white-collar crime prosecutions." By shifting the focus onto Candidate A's alleged shortcomings, Candidate B skillfully turns the tables and challenges their opponent's credibility on the issue of crime.

Example 2: Courtroom Drama

In a courtroom, the defense accuses the prosecution of tampering with evidence to secure a conviction. The prosecution expertly utilizes accusatio adversa, countering with, "It is the defense who has tampered with evidence by conveniently omitting crucial facts in their argument." By skillfully redirecting attention to the defense's alleged misconduct, the prosecution undermines their opponent's credibility and weakens their argument.

Example 3: Social Commentary

In a discussion about gender equality, a participant accuses another of perpetuating gender stereotypes. The accused participant effectively employs accusatio adversa, responding, "If we want to talk about perpetuating stereotypes, let's not forget about your recent comments generalizing men's behavior." By turning the tables, the accused challenges the credibility of the accuser and forces a reconsideration of their argument.


Accusatio adversa, the rhetorical device of turning an opponent's arguments against them, remains a powerful tool in persuasive communication. Throughout history, from ancient Rome to modern-day debates, this technique has been employed to captivate audiences, challenge opponents, and sway public opinion. By skillfully utilizing accusatio adversa, speakers and debaters can effectively dismantle opposing arguments and increase the persuasiveness of their own viewpoint.

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