Last time we were looking at why some presentations and speeches can leave you feeling sad or proud or ready to right some injustice, and other speeches just leave you cold – we were looking at what the Greeks called rhetoric. We looked at those musketeers: logos, pathos, and ethos. And we looked at the components of a successful speech: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. And we even looked at the six parts of arrangement: introduction, narrative, partition, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion.
This time I want to look more at ‘figures of speech’, the ‘tropes’ and ‘schemes’. I want to examine the verbal tricks you can use to have an audience eating out of your hand (or to watch out for if you think someone is using these dark arts against you). It’s amazing that they all have names! Here are a few examples to begin with:
Anthimeria – using a different part of speech to act as another, such as a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, or an adjective as a verb, etc, eg “I should cocoa”.
Aporia – talking about not being able to talk about something, eg “I can't tell you how often writers use aporia”.
Aposiopesis – breaking off as if unable to continue, eg “it was so awful, I can’t go on”.
Apostrophe (not the punctuation mark) – this is addressing someone or something that is not physically present, eg “Einstein, you’d be proud of my discovery”.
Catachresis – a completely impossible figure of speech, eg “Nick will have kittens when he sees this”.
Erotema – asking a rhetorical question to the reader, eg “Why should you read this?”.
Hyperbole – over exaggeration, eg “I’ve told you a million times”.
Meiosis – understatement (the opposite of exaggeration), eg “I was a tad concerned when I saw the psychopath advancing with a chainsaw”. Litotes (my favourite) – a type of meiosis which uses a statement in the negative to create the effect, eg “Newton wasn’t bad at physics”,
Metaphor –saying one thing is another thing, eg “my daughter’s room is a disaster area”.
Metonymy – using a physical object to embody a more general idea, eg “the PEN is mightier than the SWORD”.
Onomatapoeia – words that sound like the thing they represent, eg “buzzing of innumerable bees”.
Oxymoron – using a contradiction in a manner that oddly makes sense, eg military intelligence.
Personification – giving human qualities to inanimate objects, eg “the brown lawn begged for water”. It’s used a lot in poetry. For real geeks, look out for prosopopoeia. This is a form of personification in which inanimate objects speak! Ecologists might describe things from the point of view of the Amazon rain forest.
Puns – a pun twists the meaning of words, eg “the violinist was as fit as a fiddle”.
Simile – saying something is like something else, eg “her skin was as cold as ice”.
Synaesthesia – this is mixing one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as how a colour sounds, or how a smell looks.
Synecdoche – using a part of a physical object to represent the whole object, eg “have you seen his new wheels”, meaning his new car.
Zeugma – one verb with different objects, eg “I blew my nose and the fuse”.
There’s full list of these (schemes and tropes) on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_Speech.
You may like to know, in passing, that all these figures of speech can be grouped into four fundamental operations or categories of change, and they are: addition, omission, transposition, and permutation.
So, if you have to give a talk or a presentation, or you want to persuade just one person, this is the stuff for you. It’s what media gurus teach their clients – business people and TV execs and politicians. Now you know about it, keep your eyes peeled for it in speeches and adverts and when you buy a second-hand car. But make sure you use it when you give a presentation.