Article Category: Speechwriting

Spice Up Your Speechwriting (Epiphora)


If you could easily highlight key messages in your speech, would you do it?

If there were a simple way to be more memorable, would you do it?

If you could craft speech phrases that are more quotable, would you do it?

Epiphora is the key to spicing up your speechwriting. In this article, we define epiphora, cite several famous examples, and help you add this rhetorical device to your speechwriting toolbox.

epiphora

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What is Epiphora? A Definition…

Epiphora (or epistrophe) is the Greek term used to describe the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences. It is sometimes called epistrophe and antistrophe; however, I prefer to call it epiphora because it emphasizes the close relationship to anaphora (repetition at the start of successive clauses or sentences).

One of the most famous examples of epiphora is from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863:

… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.

In this case, Lincoln repeats “the people” at the end of three successive clauses. This amplifies his idea that government is not an abstract, distant thing; government is intimately interconnected with the people.

This technique is used heavily as a rhetorical device throughout literature, the arts, and famous speeches. Through repetition, epiphora provides emphasis of key words and phrases. With repetition falling at the end of clauses or sentences, epiphora draws words and ideas together to create a focal point of sound and meaning.

Epiphora Speech Examples

In each of these examples, note how the repeated words (in bold) are central to the speaker’s message.

John F. Kennedy, “The Strategy for Peace”, June 10, 1963:

The United States, as the world knows,
will never start a war.
We do not want a war.
We do not now expect a war.

Malcolm X, “The Black Revolution”, June, 1963:

Our brothers and sisters in Asia, who were colonized by the Europeans,
our brothers and sisters in Africa, who were colonized by the Europeans,
and in Latin America, the peasants, who were colonized by the Europeans,
have been involved in a struggle since 1945 to get the colonialists, or the colonizing powers, the Europeans, off their land, out of their country.

Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream“, August 28, 1963:

With this faith, we will be able to work together,
to pray together,
to struggle together,
to go to jail together,
to stand up for freedom together,
knowing that we will be free one day.

Lyndon B. Johnson, March 15, 1965:

There is no Negro problem.
There is no Southern problem.
There is no Northern problem.
There is only an American problem.
And we are met here tonight as Americans-not as Democrats or Republicans-we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

Justin Trudeau, eulogy for his father (Pierre Elliot Trudeau), October 3, 2000:

But more than anything, to me, he was dad.

And what a dad. He loved us with the passion and the devotion that encompassed his life. He taught us to believe in ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, to know ourselves and to accept responsibility for ourselves.

Barack Obama, speech after New Hampshire primary loss, January 8, 2008:

For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.

Kevin Rudd, “Indigenous Australian Stolen Generation”, February 13, 2008:

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
[…]
To the stolen generations, I say the following:
as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.
On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry.
On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry.

With repetition falling at the end of clauses or sentences, epiphora draws words and ideas together to create a focal point of sound and meaning.

With or Without Epiphora:
Which is more powerful?

In compiling a list of epiphora examples, I discovered an interesting case where a Biblical passage is published both with and without epiphora.
[Source: bible.cc]

1 Corinthians 13: 11, New International Version Bible:

When I was a child,
I talked like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

1 Corinthians 13: 11, New Living Translation Bible:

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Though these translations essentially say the same thing, they have a different impact. The second version (without epiphora) is shorter (and shorter is generally better in speeches), but the first version (with epiphora) makes more impact. Imagine hearing this passage out loud, with vocal emphasis on the repeated words and effective pauses.

A Guide for Using Epiphora in Your Speeches

Can you benefit from using ephiphora in your speeches? Absolutely! It doesn’t matter where you speak, whether the boardroom, the ballroom, or the pulpit.

Guideline #1 – Don’t overdo it.

Like many other rhetorical devices, the impact is strongest when they stand out. For this reason, use epiphora sparingly. In many speeches, one use is adequate.

In many famous speeches (like those quoted above), it is common to find one or two examples of epiphora, but only very long speeches tend to have more than that.

Guideline #2 – Choose words key to your message.

Did you notice how the repeated words above were central to each speaker’s message?

  • Malcolm X: “Europeans”
  • Dr. King: “together”
  • Kevin Rudd: “sorry”

These words were not randomly selected. In the same way, you should choose key words for your message and build epiphora around them.

Guideline #3 – Use pauses and vocal emphasis.

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For maximum impact, use your vocal powers to draw attention to the repeated words. In this way, the words help build up an emphatic cadence that your audience will long remember.

Your Turn: Try it Out!

Take a minute or two right now and craft a few speech lines that utilize epiphora for one of your upcoming speeches.

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Comments icon7 Comments

  1. Sunil Roy says:

    I could have given the short introduction on a theme called Innovation using Epiphora.
    I was a Toastmaster of the Day.
    So, I wish I had put it as below:
    ………..
    Let me try to explain what is innovation.
    If you see a New or a much better Idea, its innovation.
    If you see a new or a much better product, its innovation.
    If you see a new or a much better process, its innovation.
    ….continue…

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      That’s the idea, Sunil! You’ve actually combined epiphora and anaphora together in that example.

  2. Thanks Andrew. I like the advice to use epiphora sparingly to maintain its impact.

    (Also, note that the former Australian prime minister is Kevin Rudd, not Paul Rudd.)

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Whoops. Thanks for alerting me to the typo, Craig. It has been fixed.

  3. Civilla says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have just made my day. I am a Toastmasters member, an author, and a blogger. But whenever I can learn something new, I am thankful. Thank you! This will help me immensely!

  4. Thanks for mentioning Lincoln! That’s the man who we should admire.

  5. Kabilan says:

    Steve Jobs at apple iphone launch: “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.
    An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.
    An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.
    These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”

    In this case, the entire sentence(with the exact words) is repeated thrice. This was a powerful speech. Is this considered an epiphora?

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