Churchill: great rhetorical devices

From Paul Carroll, President 104 London Debaters

Rhetorical devices: the master Churchill
Winston Churchill: Master of rhetorical devices

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill and many commemorations have been published.

As a public speaking club, we specially remember the power of his leadership through communication. Indeed, when Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the citation read: For his mastery of historical and biographical description, as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values. [Click here to see the citation]

In his biography of Churchill Roy Jenkins explained that on a visit to New York in his early days in politics he met a Tammany Hall politician whose oratory had a great effect on him. “I must record the strong impression this remarkable man made upon my untutored mind. I have never seen his like, or in some respects, his equal.” This was an Irish immigrant named Bourke Cockran, who became a US Congressman. “He was my model, “Churchill said, “I learned from him how to hold thousands in thrall”. [Read article here]

In his school days at Harrow, young Winston, being poor at Latin, did treble English and clearly put his heart into it. He has left us with many examples of skillful use of language and rhetorical devices.

Here is a small sampling of some of those rhetorical devices:

Metaphor:“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended on the continent” 5 March 1946

Litotes/Understatement:“Business carried on as usual during the alterations on the map of Europe.” 9 Nov 1914.

“It cannot in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government be classified as slavery in the extreme acceptance of the word without some risk of terminological inexactitude.” Feb 1906

Anaphora:“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.” 4 June 1940

Antimetabole: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” 10 Nov 1942

Chiasmus: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me” (Attr.)

As that last quote has no reference, it’s now time to take the Churchill Quiz.

Can you tell whether it’s the real Sir Winston? Click here to find out!

Last Updated on 7th September 2020 by

3 thoughts on “Churchill: great rhetorical devices”

  1. Great article Paul, Chuchill really showed the world what a great leader can do for his country. Thanks also for giving specific examples of rhetorical devices.

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