Would You Repeat That?
Rhetoric, for some people, is a dirty word, connoting conniving politicians and demagogues using linguistic tricks to bamboozle an unwitting populace. In reality, rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Like sex, money, and power, it can be used for good or ill. Some simple yet powerful rhetorical tools can transform spineless sentences into spine-tingling ones.*
One of the most powerful tools available to you as a writer is simple but judicious repetition. There are several forms of repetition, all of which have scary Greek names with which I will not burden you.
· Repetition of consecutive words
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! (Shakespeare, Richard III)
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of million count half a dozen and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. (Thoreau, Walden)
Ideas! Ideas! We expect innovative ideas from every member of the team.
· Repetition of closely spaced words:
No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer." (Grattan, speech in Irish parliament)
[I]n the east, take Constantinople; take it by ships if you can; take it by soldiers if you must; take it by whichever plan, military or naval, commends itself to your military experts, but take it, and take it soon, and take it while time remains." (Churchill, speech to Parliament)
Why should you pay your insurers before you really have to? Your insurers never seem to be in a hurry to pay you.
· Repetition of same words at the beginning of consecutive phrases
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. (Casablanca)
The cause, then, Sir, the cause! Let the world know the cause which has thus induced one State of the Union to bid defiance to the power of the whole, and openly to talk of secession. (Webster)
The pipeline will carry water to the farms; the pipeline will carry water to the cities; the pipeline will carry water that, in short, makes civilization in the valley possible.
- Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning and end of a sentence or set of sentences
The King is dead. Long live the King!
Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. (Emerson)
Temporary insanity is the plea he will enter, because all jurors have heard of temporary insanity.
- Repetition of the same words at the start of successive sentences
But be the ordeal sharp or long, or both, we shall seek no terms, we shall tolerate no parley; we may show mercy -- we shall ask for none.(Churchill)
I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted.... (Dickens, Great Expectations)
We have promised on-time delivery and we have given it; we have promised first-rate quality and we have given it; now we promise rock-bottom prices, and we will give those too.
· Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a series of sentences or clauses
Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. (Melville, Moby Dick)
That perfect liberty they sigh for -- the liberty of making slaves of other people, Jefferson never thought of, their own fathers never thought of, they never thought of themselves, a year ago. (Lincoln, debate with Stephen Douglas)
They demanded an apology. They deserved an apology. They received an apology.
Those of you who have taken the Worktalk writing trainings have already perceived, I am sure, that these rhetorical techniques render the sentences parallel in a variety of ways. Crafting parallel sentences satisfies the reader's deep craving for patterns. I encourage you to do so often.
Repetition is just one of the many powerful tools at your disposal when you write. As you edit your work, look for places where you can add a touch of repetition. (Don't overdo it or your work will sound clichéd.) A repetition here, a repetition there, and soon, your ideas will sink into your readers' minds like butter into hot toast.
*For an excellent and straightforward reference on the subject, read Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric.
© 2011 Elizabeth Danziger
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