Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Floyd E. Merritt


One of the least studied trends in contemporary rhetorical discourse is what Richard Weaver called the ultimate "devil term,"--words which serve as the ultimate symbols of repulsion and repellant. Weaver claimed that the word "communist" was the ultimate devil term in the 1950s. However, it is the belief of this author that the new ultimate devil term of the 1990s is the word "drug."

This study sought to determine whether or not a shift in ultimate terms had occurred by examining the speeches of President George Bush and other members of his Administration associated with the war on drugs. A Weaverian methodology was applied to several speeches of Administration officials, and the criteria that Weaver set forth for the study of ultimate devil terms was applied to references made to drugs in these speeches. Finally, Weaver's hierarchy of argument was applied to the arguments made by Bush and other Administration officials when referring to the war on drugs.

The study found that a shift in ultimate terms has indeed occurred, and that the term "drugs" met all criteria for a devil term. Further, it was found that the Administration used the highest forms of argumentation according to the Weaverian hierarchy. A critical examination of the effects of this rhetoric found that the Administration of President Bush adapted to the intended audience in exemplary fashion.