The rhetorical tradition has long been concerned with how to negotiate the discursive juncture between mass and elite audiences. Such a concern has contributed to what might be characterized as the rhetorical tradition's anxiety with regard to its own status. In this article I suggest that this anxiety parallels an ontological conception of the elite as second-order in relation to the first-order mass. I use the standoff between novelist Jonathan Franzen and Oprah Winfrey in 2001 as a running example of status tensions in the public sphere, arguing for a theory of vernacular as language that talks and of specialized language as language that talks about. Finally, I suggest that the separate claims to status of vernacular and specialized language might be resolved by thinking further about Bakhtin's theory of heteroglossia.

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