On this date in 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons and the British people. France had fallen to Nazi Germany, but all was not lost: over 300,000 allied soldiers had been successfully evacuated from Dunkirk. Churchill’s purpose in this speech was to buoy the spirits of the British people. Europe had fallen, but the British Empire would not give up and would not go down without a fight.
In the final paragraph, or preoration, of his speech, Churchill unleashed one of history’s most dramatic finishes:
We shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender . . . .
There’s a fine line between repetition and redundancy, but as demonstrated by Churchill, when employed at the right time and at the right place, repetition can create the kind of dramatic emphasis that rolls and resonates like ocean waves repeatedly crashing on the rocky shore. Churchill, a master of rhetoric, knew what he was doing. He knew just when and just where to employ this echo effect for maximum impact.
Another element of Churchill’s mastery is his use of succinct, simple language. As he explains in his “Scaffolding of Rhetoric,” published when he was 23 years old:
The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek. All the speeches of great English rhetoricians–except when addressing highly cultured audiences–display an uniform preference for short, homely words of common usage–so long as such words can fully express their thoughts and feelings….
Today’s Challenge: You Can Say That Again
Some of the best known sayings, expressions, titles, and aphorisms in the English language use repetition for effect:
No pain, no gain
First come, first served
United we stand, divided we fall
Put up or shut up
Never Say Never Again
What are some examples of great quotations that repeat at least one significant word? What would you say is the best thing ever said with repetition? Read the quotations below as examples; then, research a quotation that you think is particularly well stated. In addition to presenting the quotation and the name of the speaker, explain why you like the quotation based on both what it says and how it says it.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. -William Shakespeare
There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why. -William Barclay
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. -Ellen Parr
When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him . -Thomas Szasz
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. -Martin Luther King Jr.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. -Albert Einstein
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Today’s Quotation: Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. -Karlheinz Stockhausen