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Updated Jul 1, 2023

The Rhetorical Device of Barbarism: A Powerful Tool in Persuasion


In the realm of rhetoric, where the art of persuasive language is honed, a multitude of devices are employed to sway the minds of audiences. One such device, the rhetorical device of barbarism, has been used throughout history to captivate, shock, and influence listeners. In this article, we will explore the essence of this rhetorical tool, its purpose, and provide examples of its effective utilization.

Understanding the Rhetorical Device of Barbarism

The rhetorical device of barbarism involves intentionally employing language that is considered crude, uncivilized, or uncultured. By using words or phrases that evoke a sense of primitiveness or savagery, speakers aim to evoke strong emotional responses and engage their audience on a visceral level.

Purpose and Effects

Shock and Attention

The primary purpose of using the rhetorical device of barbarism is to shock and grab the attention of the audience. By introducing coarse, raw, or violent language, speakers disrupt the expected discourse and force listeners to engage with their message. This disruption can be an effective way to captivate an audience that may otherwise have been disinterested or distracted.

Emotional Appeal

Barbarism is inherently an emotional concept, invoking images of chaos, cruelty, and primal instincts. By appealing to these emotions, speakers can tap into the fears, desires, or frustrations of their audience. This emotional connection helps establish trust, empathy, or a shared sense of urgency, making it easier for the speaker to persuade listeners to adopt their viewpoint.

Memorable Impact

Using the rhetorical device of barbarism can make a speech or argument more memorable. The stark contrast between refined language and uncivilized expressions creates a lasting impression on the minds of the audience. This impact helps ensure that the speaker's message lingers in the thoughts of listeners long after the discourse has ended.

Examples of Barbarism in Rhetoric

To illustrate the effective use of the rhetorical device of barbarism, let's explore some notable examples from history:

Example 1: Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" Speech

In his famous speech in 1946, Winston Churchill referred to the division between Western Europe and the Soviet Union as an "iron curtain." This metaphorical barbarism conjured images of a physical barrier, separating the free world from the oppressive communist regime. Churchill's deliberate choice of words effectively communicated the perceived threat and brutality of the situation, capturing the attention of the world.

Example 2: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech

In his iconic speech during the 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. used powerful imagery to convey the struggle for racial equality. By speaking of "the chains of discrimination", "the manacles of segregation", and "the quicksands of racial injustice," he employed the rhetorical device of barbarism to convey the oppressive and dehumanizing experiences of African Americans. This evocative language intensified the emotional impact of his words and galvanized the civil rights movement.

Example 3: Malala Yousafzai's United Nations Address

In her impassioned address to the United Nations in 2013, Malala Yousafzai, the young advocate for girls' education, used the rhetorical device of barbarism to shed light on the brutalities inflicted by the Taliban. She described the extremists as "terrorists" who "slaughtered" and "silenced" innocent people, emphasizing the cruelty and inhumanity of their actions. These powerful words contributed to raising global awareness and support for her cause.


The rhetorical device of barbarism serves as a potent tool for persuasive communication. By intentionally using language that evokes a sense of primitiveness or savagery, speakers can shock, engage, and emotionally connect with their audience. Through memorable impact, this device ensures that their message resonates long after the discourse ends. History is brimming with examples of how this rhetorical device has been harnessed by influential figures to shape the course of events. Consequently, mastering this technique can equip individuals with the power to sway minds and effect meaningful change.

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