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Churchill and Rhetoric

Posted by Judy on Apr 9th 2022

April 9th is Churchill Day in the US, celebrating the day in 1963 that Winston Churchill was named an honorary US citizen. He was the first to be given that honor.

Among his many accomplishments, Churchill was known for the power of his oratory. In his first speech to Britain's House of Commons, he declared, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

In creating his speeches, Churchill drew on the techniques of classical rhetoric. The list of rhetorical devices below, selected from Schott’s Original Miscellany, is illustrated with quotes from Churchill.

  • LITOTES: Deliberate understatement for dramatic or comic effect. “Business carried on as usual during alterations on the map of Europe.”
  • PARADOX: A contradictory but often revealing, logical anomaly. “…decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity…”
  • EPIZEUXIS: Emphatic repetition: “…this is the lesson; never give in, never, never, never, never…”
  • EPISTROPHE/ANTISTROPHE: Repetition of words at the end of successive phrases. “…the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace…”
  • ANTITHESIS: Juxtaposition of contrasting ideas with symmetrical phrasing. “If we are together nothing is impossible, if we are divided all will fail.”
  • ANTIMETABOLE: Reversing the word order of a phrase previously employed. “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
  • CACOPHONY: Employment of harsh phrasing. “…that hideous apparatus of aggression which gashed Holland into ruin and slavery…”
  • ASSONANCE AND ALLITERATION: Repetition of vowel (assonance) and consonant (alliteration) sounds. “Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days.”
  • ANAPHORA: Repetition of words or phrases at the start of successive clauses. “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight on the fields, and in the
    streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”