Ah, the ancient art of rhetoric. There’s no escaping it. Variously defined as “the art of argumentation and discourse” or, by Aristotle in his fragmented treatise, as “the means of persuasion [that] could be found in the matter itself; and then stylistic arrangement,” rhetoric is complicated. Aristotle’s definition further breaks down into three distinct types, and he illustrates each with literary examples. And if you’ve ever picked up a rhetorical guide—ancient, medieval, or modern—you’ll be familiar with the lists of hundreds of unpronounceable Greek or Latin terms, each one corresponding to some quirky figure of speech.
Well, as usual, the internet provides us with an easier way in the form of the video above of 10 figures of speech “as illustrated by Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” one of the most literate of popular artifacts to ever appear on television. There’s “paradiastole,” the fancy term for euphemism, demonstrated by John Cleese’s overly decorous newscaster. There’s “epanorthosis,” or “immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue,” which Eric Idle overdoes in splendid fashion. Every possible poetic figure or grammatical tic seems to have been named and catalogued by those philosophically resourceful Greeks and Romans. And it’s likely that the Pythons have utilized them all. I await a follow-up video in lieu of reading any more rhetorical textbooks.