White lies

A colleague of mine recently introduced me as a “rhetorican,” which I was pleased by. The word fits. At one time in graduate school I thought of myself as a compositionist, but I’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.

There’s that perennial problem of describing what I do to people who are not academics familiar with my field. What do I do? I “teach English.” If I’m feeling more confident, I “teach Professional Writing,” a field that is no less nebulous, but not as suspicious –sounding as rhetoric. I might say I teach “composition,” or “writing and editing,” but that’s not true for every semester.

I would never say on the street that I “taught rhetoric.” That word is dangerous. I might as well say I’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 doesn’t really mean that, but that takes time, and all the while my credibility is slipping. I “teach English,” though, and everyone can understand that more or less immediately, plugging in their own experiences for mine.

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