testimony (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

In the U.S. in the 1930s through 1950s, cigarette advertisers commonly used actors dressed as physicians to offer testimony regarding the harmlessness (and at times even the health benefits) of smoking.


Testimony is a rhetorical term for a person's account of an event or state of affairs.

"Testimony is of various kinds," said Richard Whately in Elements of Rhetoric (1828), "and may possess various degrees of force, not only in reference to its own intrinsic character, but in reference also to the kind of conclusion that it is brought to support."

In his discussion of testimony, Whately examined the distinctions between "matters of fact" and "matters of opinion," noting that there is "often much room for the exercise of judgment, and for difference of opinion, in reference to things which are, themselves, matters of fact."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "witness"

Examples and Observations

  • "Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend Trident sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum!"
    (advertising claim made by Trident chewing gum)
  • "No wonder so many doctors now smoke and recommend King-Size Viceroys."
    (advertising claim made in the 1950s by Viceroy cigarettes)
  • "One of the Soviet Georgia's senior citizens thought Dannon was an excellent yogurt. She ought to know. She's been eating yogurt for 137 years."
    (advertising campaign for Dannon Yogurt)
  • Extrinsic Proof as Testimony
    - "I define testimony as everything that is brought in and secured from some external circumstance for the purpose of gaining a conviction. The best witness, therefore, is one who has, or is perceived by the jury to have, authority."
    (Cicero, Topica, 44 B.C.)

    - "Cicero stated that all extrinsic proofs rely chiefly upon the authority granted by the community to those who make them (Topics IV 24). In other words, Cicero defined all extrinsic proof as testimony. In keeping with Cicero's remark, we might argue that facts are a kind of testimony since their accuracy depends upon the care taken by the person who establishes them as facts and upon his reputation in relevant communities, as well."
    (Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2004)
  • George Campbell on Evaluating Testimony (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1776)
    "Although [George] Campbell does not provide a detailed discussion of the guidelines to be used in evaluating the reliability of a rhetor's testimony, he does list the following criteria that may be used in corroborating or invalidating the claims of a witness:
    1. The 'reputation' of the author and the manner of his or her 'address.'
    2. The nature 'of the fact attested.'
    3. The 'occasion' and 'disposition of the hearers to whom it was given.'
    4. The 'design' or motives of the witness.
    5. The use of 'concurrent' testimony.
    When these criteria are met, and are consistent with experience, a high level of persuasion may be achieved."
    (James L. Golden et al., The Rhetoric of Western Thought: From the Mediterranean World to the Global Setting, 8th ed. Kendall Hunt, 2003)
  • Testimony of Condoleezza Rice
    "On August 6, 2001, over a month before 9/11, during the 'summer of threat,' President Bush received a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The memo was entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike inside US,' and the entire memo focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. In testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor to President Bush, stated to the commission that she and Bush considered the August 6th PDB as just an 'historical document' and stated that it was not considered a 'warning.'"
    (D. Lindley Young, The Modern Tribune, April 8, 2004)
  • Richard Whately on Matters of Fact and Opinion
    "Observing that argument from testimony is related mostly to jurisprudence, [Richard] Whately [1787-1863] observes two kinds of 'Testimony' that can be used to support the truth of a premise: testimony regarding 'matters of fact,' in which a witness testifies to matters verified by the senses, and testimony regarding 'matters of opinion,' in which a witness offers a judgment based on common sense or deduction. As a form of argument from signs, testimony convinces by presenting evidence of an effect from which a cause or condition can be inferred."
    (Nan Johnson, Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric in North America. Southern Illinois University Press, 1991)
  • The Testimony of Witnesses
    "Contemporary rhetoric includes a kind of testimony that was absent from ancient considerations: statements by persons who were physically present at an event. The authority of proximate witnesses derives not from their wisdom or their professional expertise but from the modern presumption that evidence provided by the senses is reliable and credible. . . .

    "The worth of testimony offered by proximate witnesses must pass several tests. First, a witness must be in a position to observe the events in question. Second, conditions must be such that a witness can adequately perceive an event. Third, the witness's state of mind at the time must be conducive to her accurate observation and reporting. If this is not the case, her testimony must be modified accordingly. Fourth, in keeping with modern faith in empirical evidence, testimony offered by a proximate witness is more valuable than evidence offered by someone who was not present."
    (Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2004)


    Pronunciation: TES-ti-MON-ee

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    Nordquist, Richard. "testimony (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/testimony-rhetoric-1692534. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 26). testimony (rhetoric). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/testimony-rhetoric-1692534 Nordquist, Richard. "testimony (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/testimony-rhetoric-1692534 (accessed March 22, 2018).