Knowing words like symploce doesn’t make you a better speaker

My text for today…

DOOLITTLE: I’ll tell you, Governor, if you’ll only let me get a word in. I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you.

HIGGINS: Pickering, this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native wood-notes wild. “I’m willing to tell you: I’m wanting to tell you: I’m waiting to tell you.” Sentimental rhetoric! That’s the Welsh strain in him. It also accounts for his mendacity and dishonesty.

Fairly often in this blog there occur words which, it must be admitted, probably stop the eyes of most readers momentarily. At that point a reader that doesn’t know the word may click the Glossary button on the grey ribbon at the head of the page or impatiently go and read something else. I made the decision to use these words here, even at the risk of driving people away, not to flaunt my knowledge of them but to save space. If I had to explain what anadiplosis was whenever it cropped up in a speech I would be adding a paragraph every time. The same is true of all other such.

Most would agree that I, doing what I do, need to know these words. A regular reader of this blog will also find it helpful to know them, and will learn them quickly – there are not that many.  But you don’t need to know them to be a better speaker.

Consider that bit of dialogue at the head of today’s article. It comes from Pygmalion by G.B.Shaw – and therefore also crops up in My Fair Lady. Henry Higgins styles himself Professor and is a scholar and published author of books on linguistics and phonetics. Col Pickering is likewise an author of a book about Sanskrit. If ever two men could be expected to know words like those we are discussing, here they are. Why then did Shaw not put into Higgins’ mouth any reference to symploce? A quick look at the Glossary page will confirm that symploce refers to a form of repetition wherein both the beginnings and endings of the elements are the same. This is perhaps the neatest and most elegant example of it I’ve ever found –

  • I’m willing to tell you
  • I’m wanting to tell you
  • I’m waiting to tell you

But Shaw is silent on the matter; and the only reason I can conceive is that he did not know it was called Symploce.  Why should he?  Shaw was one of the foremost writers of his age, and churned out beauties like that in profusion, but so what?  He didn’t need to have learnt their obscure names to create the things. So why should you?

I fervently favour spontaneity in speaking, because audiences do. The way to find yourself spontaneously uttering beautiful and elegant phrases is to immerse yourself in fine literature and/or poetry where such figures of speech abound.

It obviously worked for Bernard Shaw!

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