A colleague of mine recently introduced me as a â€œrhetorican,â€ which I was pleased by. The word fits. At one time in graduate school I thought of myself as a compositionist, but Iâ€™ve grown away from that. Rhetcomp, too, seems too vague. Principally I think in rhetorical terms, so why not think of myself as a rhetorican?
Problem is not everyone knows what that is, or, rather, if they do, they do not necessarily know the full implications of the word.
Thereâ€™s that perennial problem of describing what I do to people who are not academics familiar with my field. What do I do? I â€œteach English.â€ If Iâ€™m feeling more confident, I â€œteach Professional Writing,â€ a field that is no less nebulous, but not as suspicious â€“sounding as rhetoric. I might say I teach â€œcomposition,â€ or â€œwriting and editing,â€ but thatâ€™s not true for every semester.
I would never say on the street that I â€œtaught rhetoric.â€ That word is dangerous. I might as well say Iâ€™m a professional gambler or hustler, or perhaps a burglar or arsonist. Certainly, a sophist. I teach people how to lie and deceive, that says. I could sit there and explain how it doesnâ€™t really mean that, but that takes time, and all the while my credibility is slipping. I â€œteach English,â€ though, and everyone can understand that more or less immediately, plugging in their own experiences for mine.