January 1:  Exordium Day

On New Year’s Day our head is on a swivel; we look backward, reflecting on the year just passed, and forward, anticipating the new year ahead.

This swivel-headedness is reflected in the etymology – the word history – of the word “January.” The month’s name comes to us from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, gateways, and doorways.  Janus was depicted as a two-faced god, one face looking backwards to the past and the other looking forward to the future.  

Like Janus, on this New Year’s Day, we look forward as we begin a new year. It’s an appropriate day to spend some time considering methods for getting off on the right foot, whether writing an essay or a speech.  

In classical rhetoric the introduction or beginning of a speech was called the exordium.  In Latin it means “to urge forward,” and it is the ancestor of the English verb exhort, which means “to urge earnestly.”  Any good exordium introduces the speaker’s topic and purpose, but the exordium is also important to establish the speaker’s ethos, or credibility, by showing the audience that the speaker is intelligent, reliable, and trustworthy.  The exordium provides the writer’s first impression, so it is important to give your introduction careful thought (1).

Whatever you do, it is important to establish why your topic matters and why it is relevant to your audience.  The best way to do this is not by telling the audience; instead, show the audience using specific concrete language.  Use a captivating story or relevant anecdote that shows how real people, like your reader, are impacted by your topic.

Today’s Challenge:  New Year’s Introduction

What issues do you believe will be or will continue to be important in the coming year?  Brainstorm some issues and your specific position on those issues.  Then select one specific claim that you feel you can defend.  Imagine that you are presenting a speech on your issue, and write your exordium.  Before stating your claim, show the reader why the topic is relevant.  Look at the issue for your audience’s perspective, and explain why this issue matters today and why it will still matter tomorrow. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The beginning is the most important part of the work. -Plato

1- Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee.  Ancient Rhetorics For Contemporary Students (Third Edition).  New York:  Pearson, Longman, 2004.

 

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