“I’m never going to need this in the real world.”
That’s the phrase I mumbled to myself every insufferable algebra class the school system forced me to sit through. Geometry, too. And math analysis class. A high school me, sitting in those cold plastic chairs, donning an atrocious plaid uniform skirt, itchy polyester polo and clunky Doc Martins that *literally* weighed four pounds, wanting desperately to fast forward to the magical, equation-free real world.
I’m thrilled to announce my teenage hopes have proved true- I’ve never faced an icky math problem my calculator could not promptly resolve.
Yeah, the relevancy of information absorbed in high school depends heavily on your career path, but many of the subjects I studied and stressed over simply haven’t crossed my mind since graduation. (Disclaimer: stay in school, kids, because college is sort of impossible without high school. And math isn’t all that bad, I just sucked at it.)
There is, however, one lesson learned in AP Language class I see in motion every day. And not just in the realms of copywriting and public relations. Traces of this lesson are present in nearly all forms of communication, regardless of the communicator’s job title. Shakespeare employed it in his plays. Heck, it was the basis for the writing tips in my last blog post.
While August means no more than sweaty work clothes and the approach of Labor Day to most of the adult population, I find it appropriate this “back to school” season to remind citizens of the real world about this invaluable lesson. It’s about persuasion and appealing to what humans want to hear. It’s ethos, pathos and logos.
Originally coined by the Greeks, ethos, pathos and logos (we’ll call it EPL for short) are modes of persuasion that play to our desire to hear credibility, emotion and numerical evidence before determining a stance or making a decision on a subject. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Ethos: The power of credibility. Did my mention of Shakespeare in the fifth paragraph elicit further interest in what the lesson was? Even if I failed, it’s hard to deny the power of a credible person’s approval. Consider the logic behind the hire of a spokesperson. Whether it’s a dentist endorsing a toothpaste or a popular athlete sipping her favorite sports drink, ethos is a potent persuasive tool.
Pathos: An emotional appeal. Maybe you’re enjoying this article because, like me, you struggled with high school math. You remember the frustrations and the countdowns to graduation day. Because of this, you immediately took a heightened interest in the writing. Another example: ASPCA commercials. The sad puppy eyes and Sarah McClachlan’s voice pierce your soul and suddenly you want to start a farm for shelter dogs. That’s pathos.
Logos: A logical approach. Awesomely, this is as close as copywriters get to working with numbers. (Have I mentioned I don’t like math?) Logos involves the use of statistics and hard facts to reinforce an argument. Saying “90 percent of people have to turn the channel during a sad ASPCA commercial” is way more convincing than a vague “most people” or “nearly everyone.” It’s tough to question facts. Should opinions fail, fight with logos.
When these three pillars of persuasion combine, a speech, article, work presentation or sermon to your husband about why you need another Michael Kors watch instantly becomes compelling. Perhaps the most transparent example of EPL is the modern day informercial. Think about it- the “doctor” in the white coat explaining why he loves a weight loss pill (ethos). The joyfully sobbing mother of three who finally found a weight loss solution that works for her busy lifestyle (pathos). The percentage of people who lost X percent of their body weight in the first month (logos). EPL is everywhere, people.
So thank you, Mrs. Sylvia, for the awesome, real world lesson. And thanks for trying, math teachers, I was a lost cause anyway.