This list is not exhaustive but very useful
What enthralls me about the English Language? It is the way the article is written or the way the speech is spoken. Sitting down and dissecting an essay or speech for its effectiveness uncovers many useful devices cleverly employed by the writer or the speaker.
I refer to the use of rhetorical or literary devices.
A rhetorical device is a technique where words are used in a certain way to evoke emotions, persuade or convey meaning. It comes across as stylish, memorable, and impactful. It holds the listener’s attention longer as his interest is piqued to want to know the whole story or the reader is thrilled by the way words are used and able to envision the story told.
Let’s examine popular rhetorical devices used in speeches by famous people.
Alliteration — This is the repetition of consonants or sounds at the beginning of two or more words. For example, ‘picture perfect. Though the words begin with a different consonant as in ‘Kids’ coats’ or ‘Cunning King’, they are alliterative. They should come in quick succession for maximum impact.
Alliteration makes a statement sounds more musical and memorable. It adds creativity, mood, and substance to descriptive prose more interesting. It is commonly employed in poetry to make it flow or even rhyme well.
For Example, in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’, he began with the musical line
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary”
‘weak and weary’ is alliterative.
The ‘spectacular, setting sun’ certainly gives more alliterative impact than the ‘setting sun’.
An alliteration that comes in threes has the best impact.
2 Metaphor — -It is a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison between two things that are not alike but have something in common. It directly refers to one thing by mentioning another.
For example, “she is the shining star of the class” means that she is the outstanding student of the class.
“They called him a walking encyclopedia” means that he is highly knowledgeable.
“Life is a roller-coaster” signifies the ups and downs of being alive. There are good times and bad times, happy and sad ones, and may be thrilling at times like a roller-coaster.
Note that metaphors compare without using the words ‘as’, ‘or’, ‘like’
Metaphors paint lively images in the brains of your listeners and readers and make the text comes alive.
3 Simile — It compares two different things like the metaphor but uses connecting words like ‘as’ or ‘like’. The thing that it is compared to may seem unrelated.
One famous Simile comes from the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ in which he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. Here, he compares life’s unpredictability to a box of chocolates in that one never knows its flavor until one bite into it.
Difference between Simile and Metaphor
For example, ‘Life is like a dream’ is a simile but ‘life is a dream’ is a metaphor.
4 Personification — -This is giving a word a human trait, making it comes alive like it can do what a human does.
For example, when Picasso said, “ Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day”, he personified the word ‘Art’ giving it power that can act like a human.
By looking at Art or dabbling in Art, it helps us dust away the fog that is the busyness of each day and one can really enjoy art as we see it.
Knowing art gives us clarity, peace, and awareness that is ultimate happiness for our well-being.
5 Hyperbole — -This is an exaggerated statement that makes something bigger or smaller than it is.
For example, it’s not uncommon to hear “This bag weighs a ton!”
When I first did public speaking, I could feel the eyes of the audience boring into me! This is a hyperbole statement to indicate my anxiety.
Hyperbole evokes strong feelings and impressions to make the idea stand out more.
6 Pun — A pun is a wordplay that may give the statement double meaning. This is a clever way to express a certain idea or situation and can bring a lot of humor to it. It can be a similar sound, spelling, or meaning.
For example, a joke went like this; What happened to the guy who sued over his missing luggage? Answer: He lost his case.
Shakespeare is well known for using puns.
In Romeo and Juliet, a morbid pun comes from a fatally-stabbed Mercutio, where grave means serious, but refers to his imminent death:
“Ask for me tomorrow, you shall find me a grave man.”
In Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven, the narrator used a pun to good effect underlining the loneliness he felt encountering the raven who visited him;
“Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow, he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
I used to have a photographic memory but never developed it.
6 Anaphora — -This is the strategy of repeating the words at the beginning of a speech to give emphasis.
For example, an excerpt of President Obama’s farewell address contained an anaphora as shown below;
“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…
If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9–11
If I had told you that we would win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens.
Repetition in Anaphora is a reinforcement and is more impactful to the audience.
All good speakers invariably repeat their first lines for greater effect.
7 Oxymoron — -A statement that consists of words that contradict each other. It is an interesting description and adds color to your speech or writing.
Examples are ‘seriously funny, pretty ugly, awfully good, instant classic, and same difference.’
Difference between Oxymoron and a Paradox
A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself but contains an element of truth.
As in, “ She is persuasive but rude” is a paradox. These two different traits may exist together but not expected to be so.
8 Euphemism — -This is the use of words to replace something that otherwise sounds too harsh, negative, or unpleasant.
For example, people like to day, “He passed on”to replace “He died” to make it more gentle.
When someone loses a job, he may say, “ I am in transition” or “ I am in between jobs”. This certainly sounds more comfortable than declaring, “ I am jobless!”
“She is horizontally challenged” is used in place of “She is fat.”
9 Power of three — -There is magic in the number 3 for some inexplicable reason. As a result, effective communication often involving using three words such as adjectives to describe something as in “The room was dark, damp and dingy” to give a better mental vista of the place described than just “The room was dark.”
From Winston Churchill’s exhortation, “ Never, never, never give up” is still being quoted today by speakers.
The Power of Three also known as the Triad is an ubiquitous truth.
We see a speech being organized into Introduction, Body, and conclusion.
Three key points of speech are advised under each, more are elaborated.
Three letter acronyms are very popular in Singapore such as MOM, PAP, PIE, etc to stand for Ministry of Health, People’s Action Party, and Pan Island Expressway in that sequence. It sounds catchy and effective.
It seems that when delivered in threes, they sit well with the audience and make your delivery or messages more memorable.
10 Antithesis — This means the opposite. It is the use of two contrasting ideas to bring the message across more colorfully and vividly. It is an intelligent way to compare and contrast two concepts.
For Example, In Martin Luther’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, he employed a lot of antitheses for good effect.
He said, “We must learn to come together as brethren or perish together as fools”
“I hope that one day my children will be judged not by their skin color but by their character.”
King brought out two contrasting ideas in such a manner that they are highly quoted even today.
Quotable quotes are innumerable from Winston Churchill who was a master of satire ;
“ He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
“ Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
“ We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”
Speakers and Writers invariably employ these literary devices to capture their audience and readers’ attention.
By doing so, their works would effectively impart their messages and leave a magical touch, and feel that is the beauty of the English language well executed.