How To Build The Speech
( Originally Published 1922 )
The next move after the search for materials is the putting together of the speech. Indeed, while the quest for ideas is still on foot, and the couriers of thought are posting over land and sea prying into the deeps and gazing into the starry heights one sturdy, stay-at-home workman of the mind is busy laying out plans for the building that is soon to rise, and checking up, stowing away and arranging the materials as they come in from this, that, or the other source. The materials that are to enter into the building besides the plan or outline are paragraphs, sentences, phrases, and single words. This chapter will deal with these building materials.
I. The Plan of the Speech
An old colored man who was much praised for his fine sermons, said to his admirers, "It's easy enough to preach a sermon. All you haf to do is to take a tex, an' den mystify, an' sprangle out, an' bring in de rousements." A good speech is made in very much the same way. That is, we first decide upon a theme; then we focus and limit and explain the meaning of this theme; and next we arrange the subject under three or four simple heads; and finally we drive the main truth home with force and fire. Of course, it is better to clarify than to "mystify" at the beginning; and it is somewhat better to expand than to "sprangle out;" and we should be careful not to make the "rousements" mere noise. But this orator had grasped the main idea even though he did not express it in exactly the right words.
The high school student should realize at the very start, though, that any speech he is likely to make during his school days will be so brief that the plan suggested above will not fit his needs. He will rarely be asked to make a speech of more than eight or ten minutes in length; never longer than fifteen minutes. Since this is the case, both teacher and pupil should avoid the effort to draw up a formal plan with introduction, body, and conclusion, all worked out in main heads and sub-heads, with even the subheads divided down to. the smallest point. A twenty-minute speech might require a formal outline a forty- or fifty-minute address surely would. But "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." For the pupil in high school the day has not yet come when he must wrestle with subject matter that refuses to be crowded into brief space.
Since, then, the typical high school speech will be from seven to ten minutes long, how foolish it is to plan it as if it were a grown-up oration or address that would require thirty, forty, or fifty minutes to deliver! It would be just as sensible to fit out a boy scout with the uniform and arms of a major general as-to have him make a plan for his brief speech on the model of an extended speech or oration. Boys and girls are often confused when they try to plan a speech after the textbook fashion, with introduction, discussion (with main heads I, II, III, and sub-heads, 1 2, 3, and sub-subheads a, b, c, d), and conclusion. In the ordinary high school speech one or two striking sentences in the first paragraph is all that is needed by way of introduction. The body of the speech, if it is very brief, will be made up of four or five paragraphs arranged in logical order, each paragraph dealing with a single topic or point of view. What-ever is necessary to conclude the speech may be brought into the final paragraph in the form of a terse summary, a telling application, a brief, pat anecdote, or a striking quotation. A ten- or fifteen-minute speech may have a short opening paragraph; the body of the speech may be divided into three or four chief heads with two or three paragraphs under each head; and there may be a concluding paragraph. A plain high school speech might be likened to a log cabin in the woods or a snug little cottage or bungalow in town. It is just as much out of place to draw up the plan of your speech on the lines of a Chautauqua lecture, a debate in the Senate, or a Phi Beta Kappa address as it would be to plan your modest home on the lines of the White House, or a summer mansion by the sea.
Some such outline as this might do for a five- or six-minute speech by a high school senior who is asked to help arouse interest in the high school paper.
SUPPORT THE HIGH SCHOOL Trumpet
I. For the glory of now and then seeing your own name in print.
II. You cannot keep posted on high school activities unless you read the Trumpet.
III. The Trumpet makes for high school loyalty and unity.
IV. Other schools will judge us by the quality of our paper.
V. The Trumpet offers a means of developing student literary talent.
The following outline has been used in a fifteen-minute speech to seniors in high school on the theme
WHY Go TO COLLEGE?
I. To Experience Four Years of Pure Enjoyment.
1. Innocent pleasure is a natural right of the college student.
2. The choicest friendships of life are made during college days.
3. Sane social, athletic, and esthetic recreation is a regular part of the college program.
II. To Fit Oneself Better to Make a Good Living.
1. It is right to desire high success in life.
2. College training vastly increases one's prospect of success in life.
3. During the War our boys saw clearly that it pays to be educated.
III. To Learn how to Pursue Life as a Fine Art.
1. Our chief need is not a living, but a life rich, radiant, harmonious.
2. If the outward world fail or betray him, the educated man can fall back upon an inner world of ideas, of taste, of character.
3. The four years in college are crucial ones for the storing up of spiritual riches.
IV. To Fit Oneself for Worthy Service and Leadership.
1. Since the college graduate receives so much, much will be expected of him.
2. The chief luxury in life lies in doing good to others.
3. The War taught us that a nation will prove strong or weak in proportion as its citizens are able to serve it.
4. The happiness or misery of an age will depend upon its leaders.
II. The Paragraph and Its Place in the Plan
A paragraph is a developed topic. It is a small essay in itself, and is the chief building unit we make use of as we round out the completed speech. Great pains should be taken to make each paragraph a clear, strong, orderly whole, since the strength of the finished speech will be little greater than the strength of the separate paragraphs when welded together. A paragraph is not unlike a state in the Union. It has its own laws, and rights, and local ideals and duties, yet it bears a vital relationship to the whole union. The Union would not be strong and great were it not for the sturdy, orderly life of the states that compose it. On the other hand, each state gains a force and quality from its connection with the Federal Government that it could never achieve all alone.
Be sure of a topic sentence around which to mould your paragraph. It is often wise to state this chief thought in the opening sentence. At least be sure that you can state it in a single sentence. You will unfold this germ sentence in various ways. It must grow and enlarge under your hand, so that every phase of it will be brought out. You may repeat it in some bright and striking way. You may state what it is not, and so throw it into relief by contrast. You may add interest to it by a happy quotation. You may make it clearer by using an example that is familiar to everyone. You may make it stand out in bright colors by a well-conceived image or figure of speech; and, again, you may give it zest and point by means of a well-told anecdote. Whatever method you make use of in developing it, make it clear, make it lively and make it unified and complete. In my youth I was told about a very eloquent speaker who had the habit, when unfolding a topic, of first putting the idea in the barest, clearest, strongest words he could think of; then of holding it up before his hearers in a golden figure of speech; and then finally of draping it in the richest and most glowing imagery.
The opening sentence of a paragraph, whether or not it contains a condensed statement of the topic, should be striking, and worded with skill. Many of the greatest speakers reserve the topic sentence until the very close, and then sum up in a short, strong, easily remembered sentence the full meaning of the paragraph. This closing sentence, by the use of an epigram or an apt quotation, might well repeat the substance of what was put into the first sentence. It is a good thing to keep always in mind that the paragraph is a little realm in itself, and is to be composed as a finished unit in its own right, though, of course, it must be made to follow naturally upon the paragraph that went before, and it is to merge gracefully and firmly into the paragraph that follows. Gibbon, the historian, had wonderful skill as an architect of language. He thought out his book by chapters, and his chapters by sections, and his sections by paragraphs, and his paragraphs by sentences. Then, knowing beforehand exactly what sort of block of thought material he wanted to swing into place at a certain section of a given chapter, he would round out and polish in his mind with slow toil the paragraph that was to be fitted into the chosen place. He would not write this paragraph out on paper, but would carry it in his mind, and ponder over it, and let it roll about until all the rough edges were worn away, and then when it was perfectly finished and completely memorized he would deposit it on paper with his pen. As a result of all this, his paragraphs are not merely models of unity; each one is also a bit of finished art.
III. The Sentence
In this chapter the ,putting together of a speech has been likened to the building of a house. But the figure does not hold good at every point, since all the materials that go into a building are cold and dead, while every element that goes to the making up of a speech is aglow with warmth and life. A speech as a whole is an organism; that is, it is alive throughout; and every member not only acts upon every other member, but also draws vitality from the central source of life the theme or germ idea. The theme makes itself felt in every part, from the plan, or outline, to the separate words that enter into a sentence. And, on the other hand, every phrase and sentence and paragraph shoots back a live wire of connection with the theme from which it draws its electric energy.
Now one of the strongest parts that enters into the life of a speech is the sentence. The sentence, though it throws out fibers of connection with the sentences about it, and with the paragraph in which it is embedded, is a unit in itself. It is the lodging place of one complete thought. When a group of thoughts, living together in close friendship, organize them-selves around a topic, they are called a paragraph. So the sentence is the smallest organized unit of composition. If one can succeed in coaxing a few words and phrases to come together in clear and logical order, he will have built a sentence. And if he can build one sentence, he can build another. So, by adding one sentence to another, he can make a paragraph. And since he can do over again what he has done before, he can create other paragraphs until he has enough for a speech. From all this we readily see that if we can achieve enough skill to make a choice sentence, we shall have mastered a chief secret of good speech-making.
Some sentences should be short, and some should be long. Some should be loose, some should be balanced, and some should be periodic. The nature of the thought to be expressed will be our best guide in choosing the form in which to cast a given sentence. But the writer has it within his power to vary his sentences almost at will. There are other ways of killing a cat than by choking it with butter. You can pounce upon your thought from in front or from behind, from above or beneath. You can turn it and twist it and bend it at your pleasure. You are to learn in your composition and rhetoric courses all the sleight-of-hand tricks that deal with sentence-making. You cannot learn too much deftness and skill in this art. Your ease as a speaker will depend much upon your knack as a sentence charmer. Usually there should be more short sentences than long ones in an oration. Short, snappy sentences seize and hold the attention. They make the speech seem lively and rapid. The listener has only a second to grasp each idea as it comes; whereas the reader can go back and read a sentence over and over if he wants to. So the speaker should make his sentences clear and brief; particularly the opening sentences of a speech should be short and striking in order to interest and win the audience at the start. In working toward a climax in the body of the speech, or when the feelings of both the speaker and the audience are wrought to a high pitch, long sentences are often in place, and if so, come naturally. In any case, sentences should not all be of the same length or formed on the same model. Variety is always desirable, for the sake of contrast and relief if for no other reason.
A few words may be of value concerning the rhetorical use of the three chief sentence forms: the loose, the balanced, and the periodic. The loose sentence is one that might come to an end before it does and yet make complete sense. It is not a fault because it does not end, as the rest of the matter belongs in it if it is a good sentence. But a period might stop it at one place or another and leave it grammatically correct. In the following sentence from Carlyle's Essay on Burns the sentence might come to an end and make full sense at any one of five places before the period that now closes it.
He does not write from hearsay, but from sight and experience; it is the scenes that he has lived and labored amidst that he described: those scenes, rude and humble as they are, have kindled delightful emotions in his soul, noble thoughts, and definite resolves; and he speaks forth what is in him, not from any outward call of vanity or interest, but because his heart is too full to be silent.
The two following sentences are not only loose, they are bad:
This is a preparation for removing freckles in liquid form.
The newly wedded pair departed with the best wishes of their friends for a short journey.
The loose sentence lends itself to easy, familiar speech, and to anecdote and description.
In the balanced sentence one part is set over against the other. The first half answers to the second half, and usually a punctuation mark serves as the point of balance. "I am fond of animated paintings, but I do not like painted animations." "Happiness comes from without; joy springs up from within." The balanced sentence is well adapted to passages that aim chiefly to teach, to explain. It is very useful to sum up a great truth, or a main argument, so that it will impress the listener and stick fast in his memory. It offers an inviting space for wit to turn a handspring in; and it is a favorite garb for both paradox and epigram. It gives to one's style both force and finish if it is not used to excess, but if overdone, it gives an impression of smartness and insincerity. Nearly every great orator, at times, makes use of the balanced sentence with telling rhetorical effect. The following examples give a good idea of the skilful use of this sentence form. The first is from Dr. Samuel Johnson's Essay on Pope:
If the flights of Dryden therefore are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. If of Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular and constant. Dryden often surpasses expectation, and Pope never falls below it. Dryden is read with frequent astonishment and Pope with perpetual delight.
The power of French literature is in its prose writers; the power of English literature is in its poets.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
In the periodic sentence, the complote meaning is made clear only at the very end. The' thought is suspended while phrase after phrase, or even clause after clause, is added, until at last the whole heavily freighted idea is deposited safe and snug on the dock. The periodic sentence affords a neat and orderly way in which to convey one's thought. How skilful and attractive such a sentence as this of De Quincey's! "Upon me, as upon others scattered thinly tens and twenties over every thousand years, fell too powerfully and too early the vision of life." The periodic sentence is often used for the expression of involved and weighty thought. It gives compactness and dignity to discourse. It is a matter of close and skilful packing; it may be made to carry what, less deftly handled, would fill up three or four sentences. It is not as good a form for oratory as it is for poetry and the essay, as the hearer has a hard time to hold firmly in mind the first part of the sentence and all that comes between until the end where the whole meaning finally becomes plain. Examples of this type of sentence are usually so long, and the space at the writer's command is so limited, that only two more illustrations can be given here.
Sitting last winter among my books, and walled round with all the comfort and protection which they and my fireside could afford me, to wit, a table of high-piled books at my back, my writing-desk on one side of me, some shelves on the other, and the feeling of the warm fire at my feet, I began to consider how I loved the authors of these books. LEIGH HUNT
Some twenty or more years before I matriculated at Oxford, Mr. Palmer, at that time M. P. for Bath, had accomplished two things, very hard to do on our little planet the Earth, however cheap they may be held by eccentric people in comets he had invented mail coaches, and he had married the daughter of a duke. DE QUINCEY.
IV. The Phrase
First the plan, then the paragraph, after that the sentence, and next the phrase; this is the order of work for an expert speech-maker. The phrase is the most minute factor that enters into the building of a speech, except the single word. By a phrase we mean the union of two or more words into an expression that is a grammatical unit. When mind and heart are aglow, striving to make some dull fact or cold truth unusually clear or strong or winsome, like a flash, two or three or a half dozen words will rush together and join in a bright, new, strange union that exactly meets the need. Such an expression not only renders the sense of the fact or truth we are striving to bring out, but it burns with such force and beauty as to set the feelings aglow with delight. When words have melted together thus to bring out the meaning of an idea, they make a grammatical unit, so that one word cannot be torn from the other without destroying the sense. No one word alone could express the sense; the same words put together in some other order could not express it. For example, when we speak of a mist of tears, we could not put in place of these words tear-mist and secure the same effect. In Shakespeare's phrase, "the dew of yon high eastward hill," the picture floats in the air like a glorious bubble; drop out one word, or change the order of the words the least bit, and you prick the bubble. The glory will vanish if you touch it.
It is the phrase that gives to language its magic effect. Here, if anywhere, genius lurks. The person who is born with the gift of striking out great phrases, or who can capture the gift and persuade it to become a dainty Ariel to serve him at need, is sure to succeed as an orator, if he have besides solid gifts of mind and character. No first-class orator, no truly great poet, is without this gift. The commonest mind can draw up an out-line for a speech. Anyone who can think at all can arrange sentences in an orderly way about a central topic and so make a paragraph. Little skill is needed to make a sentence; though there is more play for artistic surprise and cunning workman-ship within the limits of the sentence than there is in the making of the plan or the building of the paragraph. But the one who originates new and potent phrases must be an enchanter. His is a fairy-like power that calls together in the dance of language words which never before tripped together and induces them to join hands and pass and circle in entrancing figures not seen before.
But let it not be thought that this is the work of mere craft or cunning. It will never do for a student to set out with the purpose of weaving bright garlands of words just for display. It will not do to decorate one's thought deliberately. Uneducated people are likely to find delight in "flowery" language just because it is flashy, as they like paper flowers and bright prints in their homes. But the mighty phrases that stir us, and that throb on through the ages with undimmed lustre and undiminished power are those that come into being from true, warm hearts and earnest, honest brains in moments of deep passion and intense thought. True figures of speech, and undying phrases arise in oratory and poetry as the rose puts forth its bright bud and glowing blossom, or as the pear ripens into golden splendor on the bough, by means of some inner vital force that resides in nature and makes it desire to enrich the world with beauty and plenty. In the same way, every great truth, idea, mood, and passion that is fitted to enter into the education and enjoyment of men is pressing for utterance. Such ideas, moods, truths, and passions will always yearn for release so that men and women may have increased happiness. Orators and poets are the enchanters who work the desired magic.
When the right phrase has come into being it lasts forever. "The strenuous life," "the white man's burden," "the square deal," "the full dinner pail," "peaceful penetration," "watchful waiting," "the peerless leader," "the grand old man," "proper words in proper places," "the not-ourselves-that makes-for-righteousness," "the mystic chords of memory" in each expression the unique thing is said once for all. It is not necessary to repeat, and improvement is out of the question. The poets have given us our greatest phrases. Such examples as the following are scattered everywhere throughout the world's great poetry:
The flinty and steel couch of war.
Last and smallest and liveliest of all among the factors that enter into the making of a speech is the single word. In the long run we shall win or lose through our choice of words and Our skill in placing them. The study of separate words seems the littlest thing of all, but in reality it is the biggest. Words are interesting in themselves. They are the symbols of ideas husks in which lie rich kernels of meaning. The cradle of Abraham Lincoln (if he ever had one) would be a poor, plain little thing; but the fact that the heart and brain of Lincoln had been rocked in it would make it a glorious and coveted object throughout all ages. "Words are the signs of thoughts, and thoughts make history." So no small word is to be despised; for the mightiest idea must find some word in which to lodge if it is to make its way in the world of men and change the course of nations.
Words come floating down from the past bearing priceless cargoes of meaning and suggestion. Many scholars, orators, and poets find the dictionary a charming book to read. It is no objection that "it is hard to follow the thread of the story," for each word tells a story of its own. To follow the history of any one of a thousand words in daily use little homely, hard-worked words that are as common and humble as the patient burro that bears our burdens over the rough, dusty trail would be as thrilling as a moving picture show. For example, there is the word pester. What does it mean? Where did it come from? Well, it does not mean now what it used to mean. And it has come out of a distant past. It goes back to an old French word which meant to entangle the feet or legs of a horse so it could not wander away. The horse would, of course, be annoyed by such a clog; so, later, the word came to be used to describe anything that worries or embarrasses a person. And the well-known, rather soiled, unheroic word pecuniary known to every business man though not many business men know where it came from study its history for a moment. It goes back to the Latin. It comes from a word that means cattle. In primitive times cattle were a chief medium of exchange. An ox was hard cash. Things that were bought and sold were reckoned in terms of cattle. So pecuniary came to mean whatever had to do with buying and selling; and still later came to be applied to anything that has to do with money matters.' The little words don and doff were at one time do on and do off. One o was dropped out and the two words grew into one. To don one's cap is to do it on; to doff it is to do it off. It will be seen from these simple examples how hundreds and thousands of words that we use in our daily speech go back to strange and interesting origins. The better one knows the life history of any word that he uses, the more likely he is to use that word aptly.
A speaker must make his words express his exact meaning. The chief use of words is to convey ideas. Perhaps in a spirit world men read each other's thought without the use of language. But certainly in this world we have to employ some vehicle to carry ideas from one mind to another. And, do the best we can, there is bound to be some waste in this act of transfer. It is our duty to make this waste or leakage just as slight as may be. So it should be our prime effort to use words that are clear and exact. Landor, one of the most perfect writers of English, says: "I hate false words, and seek with care, difficulty, and moroseness' those that fit the thing."
Students are too much given to vagueness and looseness in the use of words. This is partly because they know too few words, and partly because they are too lazy to make careful use of those they do know. Ought not every high school student look upon it as a patriotic duty to keep our language pure? And ought he not as a mere matter of honesty express himself just as accurately as he possibly can? Why should not a student add five hundred new words to his vocabulary every year? He could do this if he earnestly desired to. But the average student slips into careless and slovenly ways of talking. He says: "My, that was a grand piece of beefsteak!" "I never tasted such elegant waffles before;" "Isn't it something awful the way that girl wears her hair!" And we fall into the cheap yet costly habit of making a few slang words take the place of the fresh, strong, exact words that we might just as well lay hold of. How we overwork such ugly, beggarly words as "bum," "nifty," "classy," "smooth," etc.! Slang is not to be objected to so much on the ground that it is new, or rough, or out of taste, for much slang is fresh, apt, and full of vigor. It is, moreover, picturesque and imaginative sometimes; and now and then a slang expression passes over into good usage and is accepted by the best writers. But "the. unchecked and habitual use of slang (even polite slang) is deleterious to the mind. Not only is slang evanescent it also has no fixed meaning. Its terms are vague and ill-defined, and they grow more and more uncertain from day to day. Thus the use of slang tends to level all those nice distinctions of meaning, all those differentiations between word and word, which the consensus of the language has been at so much pains to build up. Everything is `fine!,' or 'immense!,' or 'stunning!,' or 'just gay!' from an appetizing breakfast to an epic poem, from Alpine scenery to the cut of a friend's coat."1."'
While we are striving to be accurate we must not make the mistake of becoming too tame. The lively and forceful speaker has to risk something for the sake of ease and energy. "Let our language be our own, obedient to our special needs. 'When-ever,' says Thomas Jefferson, 'by small grammatical negligences the energy of an idea can be condensed, or a word be made to stand for a sentence, I hold a grammatical rigor in contempt.' `Young man,' said Henry Ward Beecher to one who was pointing out grammatical errors in a sermon of his, `when the English language stands in my way, it doesn't stand a chance.' " 1
Since it is the task of the orator to make words vivid as well as to make them clear, we must see to it that we have at hand plenty of short, strong words that arouse and sting like a blow in the face, or a slap on the back. Indeed, it is just such words as blow and slap that I refer to. These words strike the senses. There are many such words that are alive with sensation; and since the young and the old, the educated and the uneducated alike have experienced the sensations, they ought to form the warp and woof of plain strong talk to the common people. The following list, selected at random, will give an idea of the concreteness and power of such expressions. They strike home like the blow of a club, or the gash cut by a well aimed tomahawk. Grab, bump, stub, blab, whack, bunt, nudge, flop, hug, rub, grunt, rip, flout, punch, stumble, blurt. The true orator has at his command hundreds of such words as these. And he is not ashamed to use them just because they are common and homely. He works magic with them; for he knows when he is using such words that he is moving in paths that all men have trod. He is on the sure, solid ground of common humanity.
Finally, words must be used to give charm and beauty as well as clearness and force. It is the function of words to move as well as to instruct. The orator speaks more to the heart and the will than he does to the mind; so he must choose words that are full of feeling and suggestion. Such words are not cold and sharp like icicles, or hard and solid like bullets. They may be very simple and familiar words; but over and above the plain meaning that they convey there is an afterglow of feeling, a mist of beauty that gathers about them just as the rosy light of evening lingers in the west after the sun has set, or the dew gives added sweetness to the purple grape that ripens against the wall. It is the power of association that gives these words such richness and charm. They call up distinct sensations and tender or vivid impressions from the past. Such words as good, bad, home, father, mother, cry, laugh, eat, sleep, rest, work, hard, soft, not only have very clear meanings attached to them; they enter into our inmost being. They have meaning for our whole nature.
By instinct the orator summons the word that is saturated with feeling. His art lies in choosing the word that suggests much. You remember, in Milton's Cornus, how the seducer offers the Lady "orient liquor in a crystal glass." Why does the poet use the epithet orient? What does it suggest to your mind? The remarkable thing is that it calls up various images any one of which would serve the purpose. For one person the word orient unlocks the whole, bright, glowing East; to another it suggests the crimson of the dawn; while to a third it brings the image of the drug drawn from the gorgeous poppy. In the Ode to a Nightingale Keats uses the expression
Magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
If you will turn to your dictionary you will see that forlorn means lost. But how much more than this Keats makes it mean! As we read the word here we feel a sense of desolation, loneliness, and misery. Or study such synonyms as bloody and sanguine, slaughterous and murderous. The Latin sanguine arouses no terrors, but the term bloody makes us shiver. We can smell blood as well as feel and see it. And, as to murder it may be committed in any one of a half dozen pretty little dainty ways, by poison, by dagger, by cruel word or look! But slaughter can have but one suggestion. To slaughter means to butcher and one must butcher at close range. When Rustum speaks of "these slaughterous hands" he has reference to hands dyed in the blood of men who had fallen victim to his terrible sword. And, finally, compare the words domicile and home. These terms are synonyms. But domicile does not touch the emotions in the least. A man's domicile may be a Fifth Avenue mansion, a stationary freight car, or a boarding house, so far as his feelings are concerned. But when we utter the word home what a rush of feeling comes over us! We are at once back with father and mother and brothers and sisters around the glowing fire; memories of books and games come trooping through the mind; delicious odors of cookies, pies, and roast turkey are wafted in from the kitchen but we must call a halt, for a whole book could not tell all that the word home means to us.