You don’t have bore your audience to tears for your key message to stick. Read on to discover five language ‘tricks’ (narrative devices) you can employ to make sure your communication is delivered in a fun and effective way.
Anaphora is the narrative device of repeating either the same word or the same phrase at the start of successive clauses. Here’s an example of anaphora:
“We need to know. We need to find a way to be informed. We need to ask them to give us the answers.”
Key message: We need to know.
Famous users of anaphora are Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and American author Bill Bryson.
With this technique, you need to repeat your key idea at the end of several clauses. Here’s an example:
“You can go Birmingham, but don’t go to Norwich. You can go to London, but don’t go to Norwich. You can go to York, or Newcastle, but don’t go to Norwich. Go wherever you want, but don’t go to Norwich.”
Key message: Don’t go to Norwich.
Epiphora was famously employed in the Dr Pepper advertising jingle:
“I’m a Pepper, He’s a Pepper, She’s a Pepper, We’re a Pepper, Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”
To employ polypton, you need to repeat words that have the same root, but add different endings. Polypton is frequently associated with maxims and adages. Famous users of the technique are Shakespeare and the poet Robert Frost, who in his definition of love said this:
Examples of polypton
- "He lived a life worth living."
- "I disagreed that to disagree, we must be disagreeable."
Commoratio is the device that stems from the Latin word for ‘dwelling’. The idea is to dwell on, or repeat an idea or a word a number of times by using different words. Commoratio was famously used by Mr Pralin in the Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch, where he uses different words to describe death:
“…his metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig!”
Key message: He’s dead.
Epimone is a technique that has its roots in the Greek language, from the word ‘tarry’. To use this technique, you need to repeat – frequently - either a question or a phrase. It’s a powerful device often used in argument to highlight the weakness of an opposing idea or thought. Shakespeare’s Brutus used epimone in the following verse:
“Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak. For him I have offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.” (Brutus, Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2)
The central idea behind all of these suggestions is to repeat yourself, but to do so imaginatively, and with style. Simply repeating yourself needlessly (there’s a name for this too: battology) is not advised: this will serve only to alienate those you wish to influence. But just a little knowledge of a few narrative techniques, such as those above, will help you spice up your language and help your audiences focus on your message in a way that is both entertaining and informative.