The Greek and Latin names of rhetorical devices may not be recognizable to English-speaking audiences, but the devices themselves pepper the speeches of the most famous presidents and prime ministers of modern history. Here are some examples from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Abraham Lincoln, Modest Master of Litotes
Litotes (Greek for "plainness") refers to the deliberate use of understatement for rhetorical effect. Abraham Lincoln was a master of this technique, and his most famous speeches use it.
For instance, in his inaugural address of 1865, Lincoln remarked that "The progress of our arms ... is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all." Lincoln's phrasing exudes a calm and humility that belies his imminent victory in the bloodiest war in American history.
Yet Lincoln's speech has been remembered, and Everett's has been forgotten – though to Everett's credit, he immediately recognized Lincoln's speech as superior to his own.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Rhetorical Metaphors
The use of metaphor ("transference" in Greek) is one of the most common techniques in literature, and the way it vividly equates two seemingly unrelated things has made it a favored rhetorical trick since ancient times. Franklin Roosevelt used this technique in his 1933 inaugural address when he stated that, to cite one example, "the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side."
One would not immediately compare factories with a forest; but by doing so, Roosevelt suggests to his audience that the bleak autumn of the Great Depression would eventually turn back into spring.
Related rhetorical devices to metaphor include simile (from the Latin for "like") and personification (Latin for "making a character" out of an abstract). Roosevelt used personification when, also in his first inaugural, he famously proclaimed that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and used military metaphors to describe the struggle against the economic disaster which greeted his presidency.
Winston Churchill's Tenacious Repetition
Winston Churchill was one of the most celebrated English orators of the twentieth century, and his speeches (both as Prime Minister and in other roles) contain textbook examples of classical rhetorical flourishes.
For instance, Churchill used iteratio (Latin for "repetition") in a 1941 speech at Harrow: "this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."
Churchill's "never" and the phrases following in this speech are also a good example of the Greek concept of asyndeton ("lack of connection"). Leaving out conjunctions such as "and" this way gives a speech a blunter, more forceful tone. Its opposite is polysyndeton ("many connections").
Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Churchill were all masters of the art of persuasion. All three understood that concepts such as litotes, metaphor, and iteratio are just as effective on modern audiences as they were on the ancients.
However, there are many other time-tested figures of speech used in oratory (such as praeteritio, hyperbole, and anaphora), which also live on in remarks made by more contemporary American Presidents.