Rhetoric (variously defined) has been one of those tropes of literary criticism for decades, with books like Burke's Rhetoric of Motives and Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction staples of Lit/Crit courses. But why did rhetoric as rhetoric get such a bad rap? For a millennium or so it was, along with dialectic and grammar, a respected leg of the medieval pedagogic triad of the trivium, a foundation of the liberal arts. Yet, according to my OED, by the mid-sixteenth century the word had a pejorative sense: "artificial, insincere, or extravagant." But if you look over the touchstone work about rhetoric by Aristotle (available in a very nice, readable, and free online version here) you find him presenting the view that, properly presented, noble and reasonable arguments will prevail over ignoble and unreasonable ones.
Anybody have any thoughts, rhetorically speaking? Does life on message boards largely consist of rhetorical gestures?