expeditio (elimination)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Through expeditio, a rhetor rejects an argument in the way that an umpire in baseball throws a player out of a game. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)


In an argument, the rhetorical term expeditio refers to the rejection of all but one of various alternatives. Also known as elimination, the argument from residuals, the method of residues, and (in George Puttenham's phrase) the speedy dispatcher.

"An orator or persuader or pleader should go roundly to work," says George Puttenham, "and by a quick and swift argument dispatch his persuasion, and, as they are wont to say, not to stand all day trifling to no purpose, but to rid it out of the way quickly" (The Arte of English Poesie, 1589).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Elimination (or expeditio) occurs when we have enumerated the several ways in which something could have been brought about, and all are then discarded except the one on which we are insisting. (Caplan: Cicero, Quintilian, and Aristotle all regard this as a form of argument, not a figure. It is known in modern argumentation as the Method of Residues.)"
    (James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A History of Rhetorical Theory From Saint Augustine to the Renaissance. University of California Press, 1974)
  • "Expeditio is when the speaker enumerates the reasons which may serve to prove something either possible or impossible, and after setting aside all the others, selects that reason which is valid and conclusive. It is frequently used in partitions."
    (George Winfred Hervey, A System of Christian Rhetoric. Harper, 1873)
  • Richard Nixon's Expeditio
    "[M]uch more powerful in argument is expeditio, the device of setting out numbered options and then eliminating all but the one preferred . . .. [Richard] Nixon uses this elimination logic in his speech justifying military combat in Cambodia, 1970: 'Now confronted with this situation [supplies coming from Cambodia], we have three options. First we can do nothing. . . . Our second choice is to provide massive military assistance to Cambodia itself. . . . Our third choice is to go to the heart of the trouble' (Windt 1983, 138). Almost always, the final option is the preferred option."
    (Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion. Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Anselm of Canterbury's Expeditio: The Origin of Created Things
    "Medieval scholastic theologians also attempted to prove creation ex nihilo by means of reason without any appeal to Scripture. An example of this was Anselm's rational argument in his Monologion. He raised the question of the origin of created things. Logically, Anselm offered three possible answers: 'If . . . the totality of things visible and invisible is out of some material, it can only be . . . out of either the supreme nature, or out of itself, or out of some third essence.' He quickly dismissed the third option because 'there just is no third essence.' By process of elimination, this left two possibilities. He further dismissed the possibility that matter is from itself, reasoning: 'Again, everything that is out of matter is out of something other than itself and is posterior to [after] it. But because nothing is other than itself, or posterior to itself, it follows, therefore, that nothing is out of itself as material.' By process of elimination, this left only one option: The totality of things must exist out of the supreme nature."
    (Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Zondervan, 2011)
  • Jimmie Dale's Expeditio
    "Tight-lipped, Jimmie Dale stared out at the black, flying walls as the subway train roared its way back to lower New York. He had been properly done! There could be no question about that. But by whom? And why? What did it mean? Intuition, even back there in The White Rat, had warned him that something was wrong, but he would in no way have been justified in being swayed wholly by intuition. He could not in justice blame himself for that. What was it? What was the meaning of it? Something had happened somewhere--but not at The White Rat. And he had been very neatly side-tracked. All that was obvious.
    "Was it Mother Margot? He shook his head. She had never yet double-crossed him, and he did not believe that she would dare to do so. Even her visit to the Sanctuary tonight, and her very evident wholesome respect for the Gray Seal, not to say fear, was almost proof in itself, it would seem, that she had not deliberately tried to mislead him.
    "What, then? There seemed to be only one logical explanation left. The Phantom. It would not have been altogether a new move on the Phantom's part, for, while not wholly analogous, the man had in a way tried the same game before. The Phantom knew only too well, and to his cost, that there had been a leak somewhere in his entourage, a leak that had brought the Gray Seal very inopportunely on his heels more than once."
    (Frank L. Packard, Jimmie Dale and the Phantom Clue, 1922)
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Nordquist, Richard. "expeditio (elimination)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/expeditio-elimination-1690620. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). expeditio (elimination). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/expeditio-elimination-1690620 Nordquist, Richard. "expeditio (elimination)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/expeditio-elimination-1690620 (accessed December 2, 2022).