Ethos & Editing: Part 2

Recap of the first post: Ethos means authority or credibility as a speaker. Building a strong ethos is important to rhetoric, the art of persuasion. Three ways to build ethos: maintain ethical consistency, obtain extra qualifications through formal education or career pursuits, and impress people through friendliness, good service, or wit. Full Post: Ethos & Editing: Part 1.

Words & Meaning

By providing practical examples in the last post, I applied a theoretical term, ethos, to real life. I did this to demonstrate that rhetoric is not just some philosophical insights; rhetoric remains extremely relevant. When rhetoricians of the distant past like Plato and Aristotle formulated notions on logic, they changed the ways we perceive the world in Western society. We speak in abstract concepts (words that represent many things, like “kitten”) all the time without realizing it. This statement actually alludes to a rhetorician from the not-so-distant past, I.A. Richards, who asserted that meaning is contained in people. He stated that we understand abstract concepts through “technical context” or life experience; you and I picture something different in our minds for the word “kitten” based on our interactions with them. While technical context fractures the idea that a word has one, concrete meaning, Richards deems “literary context” as the key to synthesizing people’s perceptions of words. Phrased simply, all the words that surround a word sharpen and clarify its meaning. If I write the word “kitten,” you picture something different from me, but if I write “tiny, fluffy, black kitten with white toes,” we picture something almost identical.

Meaning & Editing

You might be wondering how technical versus literary context relates to ethos or how the aforementioned ethos strategies relate to editing. Well, everything comes back to rhetoric. Whether you write an academic essay or a novel, give any type of presentation, generate any written or digital advertisements–essentially, if you share a message in any form–these are all concepts to keep in mind. The three specific strategies I named for ethos-building each apply to editing. Editing aids in maintaining ethical consistency because, by replacing words and taking others out, you clarify the literary context of your words and focus your purpose. Sometimes, rewording phrases changes the implications of your message, and you might avoid awry misinterpretations this way. Obtaining qualifications or hiring an editor with qualifications leads to a stronger message because, if a person has both read and written a lot, they better understand literary contexts. The third strategy translates a bit differently to writing; transforming mediocre writing to outstanding writing promotes ethos because perfect grammar and appealing sentence structure place your words in a perfect literary context that allows the message to shine.

Stay tuned for the next installation where I continue delving into ethos and editing!


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