What is a term for powerful, moving words? Rhetoric implies the opposite (“empty” rhetoric).

The nominee’s speech was filled with XXX

  • I think "The nominee's speech was filled with powerful moving words." works very well. A single word isn't necessarily an improvement.
    – neil
    Aug 10, 2012 at 12:46
  • The nominee’s speech was poignant.
    – lux
    May 7, 2016 at 16:50

8 Answers 8


Rhetoric most certainly does not imply the opposite of "powerful, moving words"! What implies the opposite, as you yourself note, is the adjective "empty" attached to it.

As the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it:

rhetoric the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, esp. the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Note the words "effective" and "persuasive" in that definition. You have to add negative adjectives to the term to make it bad.

As Farnsworth says in the preface to his Classical English Rhetoric:

Rhetoric is a vast, old, and honorable discipline. It may be defined most broadly and simply as the use of language to persuade or otherwise affect an audience. ... It is certainly possible to write well without rhetorical figures, but most of the best writers and speakers — the ones whose work has stood up the longest — have made important use of them, and figures tend to show up often in utterances that are long remembered.

So I would suggest not only that your premise is wrong, but that the term for powerful, moving words is, in fact, rhetoric. If the word still bothers you, add a positive modifier to it.

The nominee's speech was filled with powerful rhetoric.

  • I agree with you, that is the classical definition of rhetoric. However, in contemporary use, the word has acquired a negative connotation, especially as used in my example. "The nominee's speech was filled with rhetoric" implies that he was insincere, that he was spewing hot air. How would I best convey that his speech was genuine and had a profound impact on his audience? Mar 10, 2011 at 13:48
  • Just read your post again, and adding the positive modifier seems to be the best solution. Thanks! Mar 10, 2011 at 14:12
  • I agree with @Jen that "rhetoric" on its own carries the "empty" connotation. That is, just saying "his speech was filled with rhetoric" implies that the speech was all form, no content. Adding a modifier such as "powerful" mitigates this somewhat, but only somewhat.
    – Marthaª
    Mar 10, 2011 at 17:20

Emotive? Wouldn't suit every occasion but often has the meaning required.


Lively or vivid to emphasize the more positive aspects of powerful words?


"Demagoguery" could apply, perhaps?


What is a term for powerful, moving words? ... The nominee’s speech was filled with XXX

Why does his speech have to be filled with something?

The obvious construction has the same length as the form you propose but says what you want using the words you used to describe what you wanted.

The nominee’s speech was powerful and moving.

  • Good point. My example was simplified, I'm using the desired term in a different (more elaborate) context... Mar 10, 2011 at 19:37

Consider adjective spellbinding, which means "engrossing, fascinating, gaining rapt attention." Example: "Her eloquent speech, albeit brief, was spellbinding." Note, eloquence is "artistry and persuasiveness in speech or writing".


I would simply say stirring words.


The nominee’s speech was filled with poignancy

Although you'd probably say:

The nominee’s speech was poignant

poin-yuh nt, poi-nuh nt

1. affecting or moving the emotions:
    - a poignant scene.


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