Rhetorical devices in President Obama’s Fiscal 2014 Budget Speech

(As usual, the rhetorical devices used are in bold with their names (IN CAPITALS). If you’re unsure about any of the terms, visit Rhetorical Devices for a full explanation with lots of examples)

“Good morning, everybody. Please, please have a seat. Well, as President, my top priority is to do everything I can to reignite what I consider to be the true engine of the American economy: a rising, thriving middle class. That’s what I think about every day. That’s the driving force behind every decision that I make (ANAPHORA & SCESIS ONOMATON).

And over the past three years, our businesses have created nearly 6.5 million new jobs. But we know we can help them create more. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. But we have to get wages and incomes rising, as well. Our deficits are falling at the fastest pace in years. But we (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) can do more to bring them down in a balanced and responsible way.

The point is, our economy is poised for progress — as long as Washington doesn’t get in the way. Frankly, the American people deserve better than what we’ve been seeing: a shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making, like the reckless, across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting a lot of communities out there — cuts that economists predict will cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs during the course of this year.

If we want to keep rebuilding our economy on a stronger, more stable foundation, then we’ve got to get smarter about our priorities as a nation. And that’s what the budget I’m sending to Congress today represents — a fiscally responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth.

For years, the debate in this town has raged between reducing our deficits at all costs, and making the investments necessary to grow our economy. And this budget answers that argument, because we can do both. We can grow our economy and shrink our deficits. In fact, as we saw in the 1990s, nothing shrinks deficits faster than a growing economy. That’s been my goal since I took office. And that should be our goal going forward.

At a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, my budget begins by making targeted investments in areas that will create jobs right now, and prime our economy to keep generating good jobs down the road. As I said in my State of the Union address, we should ask ourselves three questions every day: How do we make America a magnet for new jobs? How do we give our workers the skills they need to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

To make America a magnet for good jobs, this budget invests in new manufacturing hubs to help turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. We’ll spark new American innovation and industry with cutting-edge research like the initiative I announced to map the human brain and cure disease. We’ll continue our march towards energy independence and address the threat of climate change. And our Rebuild America Partnership will attract private investment to put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads, our bridges and our schools (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA), in turn attracting even more new business to communities across the country.

To help workers earn the skills they need to fill those jobs, we’ll work with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. And we’re going to pay for it by raising taxes on tobacco products that harm our young people. It’s the right thing to do.

We’ll reform our high schools and job training programs to equip more Americans with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy. And we’ll help more middle-class families afford the rising cost of college.

To make sure hard work is rewarded, we’ll build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for anybody who is willing to work hard to climb them. So we’ll partner with 20 of our communities hit hardest by the recession to help them improve housing, and education, and business investment (TRICOLON). And we should make the minimum wage a wage you can live on — because no one who works full-time should have to raise his or her family in poverty.

My budget also replaces the foolish across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting our economy. And I have to point out that many of the same members of Congress who supported deep cuts are now the ones complaining about them the loudest as they hit their own communities. Of course, the people I feel for are the people who are directly feeling the pain of these cuts — the people who can least afford it. They’re hurting military communities that have already sacrificed enough. They’re hurting ( ANAPHORA) middle-class families. There are children who have had to enter a lottery to determine which of them get to stay in their Head Start program with their friends. There are seniors who (ANAPHORA) depend on programs like Meals on Wheels so they can live independently, but who are seeing their services cut.

That’s what this so-called sequester means. Some people may not have been impacted, but there are a lot of folks who are being increasingly impacted all across this country. And that’s why my budget replaces these cuts with smarter ones, making long-term reforms, eliminating actual waste and programs we don’t need anymore.

So building new roads and bridges, educating our children from the youngest age, helping more families afford college, making sure that hard work pays. These are things that should not be partisan. They should not be controversial. We need to make them happen (TRICOLON & SCESIS ONOMATON -ish). My budget makes these investments to grow our economy and create jobs, and it does so without adding a dime to our deficits.

Now, on the topic of deficits, despite all the noise in Washington, here’s a clear and unassailable fact: our deficits are already falling. Over the past two years, I’ve signed legislation that will reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion — more than two-thirds of it through spending cuts and the rest through asking the wealthiest Americans to begin paying their fair share.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do. But here’s how we finish the job. My budget will reduce our deficits by nearly another $2 trillion, so that all told we will have surpassed the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that independent economists believe we need to stabilize our finances. But it does so in a balanced and responsible way, a way that most Americans prefer.

Both parties, for example, agree that the rising cost of caring for an aging generation is the single biggest driver of our long-term deficits. And the truth is, for those like me who deeply believe in our social insurance programs, think it’s one of the core things that our government needs to do (SCESIS ONOMATON), if we want to keep Medicare working as well as it has, if we want to preserve the ironclad guarantee that Medicare represents (ANAPHORA & SCESIS ONOMATON), then we’re going to have to make some changes. But they don’t have to be drastic ones. And instead of making drastic ones later, what we should be doing is making some manageable ones now (ANTITHESIS).

The reforms I’m proposing will strengthen Medicare for future generations without undermining that ironclad guarantee that Medicare represents. We’ll reduce our government’s Medicare bills by finding new ways to reduce the cost of health care — not by shifting the costs to seniors or the poor or families with disabilities (ANTITHESIS). They are reforms that keep the promise we’ve made to our seniors: basic security that is rock-solid and dependable, and there for you when you need it. That’s what my budget represents.

My budget does also contain the compromise I offered Speaker Boehner at the end of last year, including reforms championed by Republican leaders in Congress. And I don’t believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I’m willing to accept them as part of a compromise — if, and only if, they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans.

But if we’re serious about deficit reduction, then these reforms have to go hand-in-hand with reforming our tax code to make it more simple and more fair, so that the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations cannot keep taking advantage of loopholes and deductions that most Americans don’t get. That’s the bottom line.

If you’re serious about deficit reduction, then there’s no excuse to keep these loopholes open. They don’t serve an economic purpose. They don’t grow our economy. They don’t put people back to work (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & SCESIS ONOMATON). All they do is to allow folks who are already well-off (ANTITHESIS) and well-connected game the system. If anyone thinks I’ll finish the job of deficit reduction on the backs of middle-class families or through spending cuts alone that actually hurt our economy short-term, they should think again.

When it comes to deficit reduction, I’ve already met Republicans more than halfway. So in the coming days and weeks, I hope that Republicans will come forward and demonstrate that they’re really as serious about the deficits and debt as they claim to be.

So growing our economy, creating jobs, shrinking our deficits (TRICOLON & PARALLELISM). Keeping our promise to the generation that made us great, but also investing in the next generation (ANTITHESIS) — the next generation (AMPLIFICATION) that will make us even greater. These are not conflicting goals. We can do them in concert. That’s what my budget does. That’s why I’m so grateful for the great work that Jeff Zients and his team have done in shaping this budget. The numbers work. There’s not a lot of smoke and mirrors in here (SCESIS ONOMATON).

And if we can come together, have a serious, reasoned debate — not driven by politics — and come together around common sense and compromise, then I’m confident we will move this country forward and leave behind something better for our children. That’s our task.

Thank you, God bless you. God bless the United States of America (ANAPHORA & CLIMAX).”

Rhetorical devices in Obama’s 2013 Israel speech

(The rhetorical devices used are in bold with their name in brackets (CAPITALS). If you’re unsure about the meaning of any of the device, got to rhetorical devices for a full explanation with examples)

“Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.

Over the last two days, I have reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM) Israel’s shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated. But what I’ve looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people, especially so many young people, about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.

Now I know that in Israel’s vibrant democracy, every word and gesture is carefully scrutinized. But just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet.

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I also know that I come to Israel on the eve of a sacred holiday – the celebration of Passover. And that is where I would like to begin today. Just a few days from now, Jews here in Israel and around the world will sit with family and friends at the Seder table, and celebrate with songs, wine and symbolic foods. After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I’m proud to have brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.

It is a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it is a story (ANAPHORA) that has inspired communities around the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.

In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement. For generations, this promise helped people weather poverty and persecution (ALLITERATION), while holding on to the hope that a better day was on the horizon. For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.

Of course, even as we draw strength from the story of God’s will and His gift of freedom expressed on Passover, we know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle (ALLITERATION), and working – through generation after generation – on behalf of that ideal of freedom. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed – “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that… we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on – for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.

For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.

That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.

And so Israel has been a refuge for the diaspora – welcoming Jews from Europe to the former Soviet Union; from Ethiopia to North Africa.

Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, and innovators who reached new frontiers (TRICOLON) – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space (ANTITHESIS).

Israel has established a thriving democracy – with a spirited civil society, proud political parties, a tireless free press, and a lively public debate – lively may even be an understatement.

And Israel has achieved (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM|) this even as it has overcome relentless threats to its security – through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and a citizenry that is resilient in the face of terror.Image

Rhetorical devices used in Mitt Romney’s 2013 CPAC speech

(The rhetorical devices used in the speech are highlighted in bold, with the name of the device immediately following in CAPITALS. If you’re unsure about the meaning of any of the devices, see Rhetorical devices for a full explanation with examples.)

“What an honor to be introduced by Governor Nikki Haley, a woman of uncommon courage and conviction; whose principles have guided her governance (ALLITERATION). We need more governors like her!

I’ve also had the honor of your support from the very beginning. You gave my campaign an early boost. You worked on the front lines—promoting my campaign, turning out voters. Thank you.

With help from so many of you, I had the honor of becoming my party’s nominee for president. I was given the privilege of experiencing America in ways Ann and I had never imagined. Across this great country, our fellow citizens opened up their homes and hearts to us.

Of course, I left the race disappointed that we didn’t win. But I also left honored and humbled to have represented values we believe in and to speak for so many good and decent people. We’ve lost races before, and in the past, those setbacks prepared us for larger victories. It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes (ANTISTROPHE), so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon.

It’s fashionable in some circles to be pessimistic about America, about conservative solutions, about (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) the Republican Party. I utterly reject that pessimism. We may not have carried the day last November 7th, but we haven’t lost the country we love, and we haven’t lost (ANAPHORA) our way. Our nation is still full of aspirations and hungry for new solutions. We’re a nation of invention and of reinventing. My optimism about America wasn’t diminished by my campaign; no, it grew – It grew (ANADIPLOSOS) as I came to know more of our fellow Americans.

I’ve seen American determination in people like Debbi Sommers. She runs a furniture rental business for conventions in Las Vegas. When 9/11 hit and again when the recession tanked the conventions business, she didn’t give up, close down, or lay off her people (TRICOLON). She taught them not just to rent furniture, but also to manufacture it.

I’ve seen perseverance. Harold Hamm drove a truck for ten years so that he could afford to go to college. He majored in Geology. Studying geological surveys, he concluded that there should be oil in North Dakota. He went there and drilled a well. It was dry. I’m told that it costs about $2 million to drill a dry hole. But he kept on drilling. 16 dry holes later, they called it Harold’s folly. That changed with the 17th. The Bakken range he discovered is estimated by some to hold as much as 500 billion barrels of oil.

I’ve seen (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) risk taking. The flagging lumber business and mounting losses convinced International Paper Corporation that they needed to shut down their lumber mill in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Into the breech stepped Jim Smith and Kim Moore, the plant manager and sales manager. They borrowed and invested everything they could, to buy the broken business. They saved their jobs and 30 other peoples’ jobs, growing sales from $5 million a year to $50 million.

I met people of great faith. I sat in the home of Billy Graham and in the residence of Cardinal Dolan and prayed with these men of God.

I met heroes in our armed forces: men and women who re-signed with the National Guard after multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, knowing that in all probability, they would be going back again.

I met heroes (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) in the homes of the nation: single moms who are working two jobs so that their kids will have clothes like those that the other kids wear, dads who almost forget what a weekend is, because of all the jobs they’ve taken on to keep the house.

We are a patriotic people (ALLITERATION). The heart of America is good. Our land is blessed by the hand of God; may we as a people always be worthy of His grace, and His protection.

Like you, I believe a Conservative vision can attract a majority of Americans and form a governing coalition of renewal and reform. As someone who just lost the last election, I’m probably not the best person to chart the course for the next election. That said, I do have advice. Perhaps because I am a former governor, I would urge you to learn the lessons that come from some of our greatest success stories: the 30 Republican governors.

Yes, they are winning elections, but more importantly, they are solving problems. Big problems. Important problems (TRICOLON & ANTISTROPHE). Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia secured a constitutional amendment to expand charter schools. Governor Rick Snyder signed Right to Work legislation—in Michigan! Several secured tort reform. Many turned huge deficits into surpluses. Republican governors reached across the aisle, offered innovative solutions and have been willing to take the heat (TRICOLON) to make tough decisions.

We need the ideas and leadership of each of these governors. We particularly need to hear from the Governors of the blue and purple states, like Bob McDonnell, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Susanna Martinez, Chris Christie, and Brian Sandoval because their states are among those we must win to take the Senate and the White House.

We can also learn from the examples of principle, passion and leadership that we have seen during these last several weeks from fellow conservatives here in Washington. I may be a little biased, but I applaud the clear and convincing voice of my friend, Paul Ryan.

If I were to offer advice to any president of the United States, it would be this: do whatever you can do to keep America the most prosperous and free and powerful nation on earth.

It is no secret that the last century was an American century. And it is no secret that over the span of the 21st century, America’s pre-eminent position is far from guaranteed. The consequence if America were to be surpassed would be devastating. Why? (HYPOPHORA) Because among the primary rivals for world leadership – China, Russia, and the Jihadists (TRICOLON) – not one believes in the freedoms we take for granted. Freedom depends on American leadership.

American leadership depends on a military so strong, so superior (ALLITERATION, ASYNDETON & ANAPHORA), that no one would think to engage it. Our military strength depends on an economy so strong that it can support such a military. And our economy depends on a people so strong (TRICOLON & MESODIPLOSIS), so educated, so resolute, so hard working, so inventive, and so (ANAPHORA) devoted to their children’s future, that other nations look at us with respect and admiration.

That is the America we grew up in, and it is the America our children deserve.

What other nation would have enjoyed hegemonic military power for a quarter of a century, and never have used it to seek revenge against its former foes or to seize precious natural resources from the weak?

What nation is the most philanthropic in the world, the first to bind up the wounds of the injured from hurricanes, tsunamis, and war?

What nation (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & HYPOPHORA) is the largest contributor to the fight against AIDS in Africa?

Who came to the rescue of Europe when it faced its darkest hour and came to the rescue of (ANAPHORA & HYPOPHORA) others under the threat of tyranny, in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Bosnia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq? Whatever you think of these interventions, the impulse behind them was liberation, not conquest (ANTITHESIS). In all of human history, there has never been a great power that has so often used its power to liberate others from subjugation, to set the captives free. This we must teach our children, and never ourselves forget.

I’m inspired by a people who believe in and live for something greater than themselves—whether their faith, their country, their family, their school (ANAPHORA & ASYNDETON).

I marvel at the prescience, the brilliance and the sacrifices (TRICOLON) made by the nation’s Founders.

I’m proud of our immigrant heritage, proud that so many of us and of our ancestors came here because they wanted to be here, to build a better future for their children here, to worship their God here (TRICOLON & ANTISTROPHE).

At a campaign stop in Texas, I met a Cambodian-American named Sichan Siv. Sichan came here in 1976, escaping the killing fields of Cambodia. His first job was picking fruit, then he drove a cab in New York City. He later volunteered on the campaign of George H.W. Bush. Thirteen years after coming to America he went to work in the White House. And then, he was appointed as a United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He said that whenever he stood to speak in behalf of America, his emotions choked, and he asked himself in what other nation could an impoverished Cambodian refugee have become its Ambassador.

America began with an idea, a noble one. That idea was that every person is endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Freedom flows in American veins (METAPHOR). It invigorates our many enterprises, it inspires us to live beyond ourselves, it calls us (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA, PARALLELISM & ASYNDETON) to care for the suffering and downtrodden. It has made us a great nation.

Today, history and duty summon us again. The country is imperiled by mounting debt, by failing institutions, by families stressed beyond their limits, by schools that fail to make the grade, and by (ANAPHORA) public servants who are more intent on scoring political points than on national renewal.

Each of us in our own way will have to step up and meet our responsibility. I am sorry that I will not be your president – but I will be your co-worker and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. In the end, we will win just as we have won before, and for the same reason: because our cause is right…and just.

Thank you again for your help and support along our journey. Ann and I will treasure these memories all the days of our lives. God bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.”

President Obama’s speech at the 2013 Gridiron Dinner

(For non-American readers, the Gridiron Dinner is an annual event hosted by the Gridiron Club, a long-established (1885) and prestigious journalistic association, at which the US president gives a self-deprecating and humorous speech.)

“Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I’m dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen.  Because of sequester, they cut my tails.  (Laughter.)  My joke writers have been placed on furlough.  (Laughter.)  I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester.  Well, you’re about to find out how wrong you are.  (Laughter.)

Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut — the length of this dinner.  (Laughter.)  Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.  (Laughter.)

As you know, I last attended the Gridiron dinner two years ago.  Back then, I addressed a number of topics — a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don’t spend enough time with the press.  It’s funny, it seems like it was just yesterday.  (Laughter.)

We noticed that some folks couldn’t make it this evening.  It’s been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted.  (Laughter.)  I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised.  Who knew Gene could be so intimidating?  (Laughter.)  Or let me phrase it differently — who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?  (Laughter.)

Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively.  But hey, when has — can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward?  (Laughter.)  What’s the worst that could happen?  (Laughter and applause.)

But don’t worry.  We’re all friends again in the spirit of that wonderful song.  As you may have heard, Bob invited Gene over to his place.  And Bob says he actually thinks that I should make it too.  And I might take him up on the offer.  I mean, nothing says “not a threat” like showing up at somebody’s house with guys with machine guns.  (Laughter.)

Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists — (laughter) — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight.  Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps — that we’re too controlling.  You know what, you were right.  I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.  (Laughter.)

While we’re on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry, who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now.  (Applause.)  And at Ed’s request, tonight I will take one question from the press.  Jay, do we have a question?  (Laughter.)  Surprisingly, it’s a question from Ed Henry.  (Laughter.)  “Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight?”  (Laughter.)  I’m happy to answer that.  No, Ed, I will not.  (Laughter.)

I also want to recognize David Corn.  He’s here from Mother Jones magazine.  He brought his iPhone.  So Bobby Jindal, if you thought your remarks were off the record, ask Mitt Romney about that.  (Applause.)

I have to say, I thought Bobby was incredibly funny this evening.  (Applause.)  I thought he was terrific.  Amy Klobuchar was sparkling and fantastic and fabulous.  (Applause.)  I am worried about Al Franken though.  (Laughter.)  How do you start off being one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and end up being the second-funniest Senator in Minnesota?  (Laughter and applause.)  How the mighty have fallen.  (Laughter.)

Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem.  So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation — thank you, Nate Silver.  (Laughter.)

Of course as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges.  We have a lot of work to do — that, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.  (Laughter and applause.)

As I was saying, we face major challenges.  March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions.  But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out.  (Laughter.)  And don’t worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.  (Laughter.)

But those aren’t the only issues on my mind.  As you are aware — as has been noted this evening — we’ve had to make some very tough, huge budget cuts apparently with no regard to long-term consequences, which means I know how you feel in journalism.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been trying to explain this situation to the American people, but clearly I am not perfect. After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars.  (Laughter.)  Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me.  Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me.  (Laughter.)

Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever — incredibly challenging.  My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn’t enough for some people.  Next week, we’re releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.  (Laughter and applause.)

I’m also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress.  In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends.  I said, “John, stop.  Chuck Hagel warned me how this ends up.”  (Laughter.)

It took a while, but I’m glad that the Senate finally confirmed my Secretary of Defense.  And I have to say, I don’t know what happened to Chuck in those hearings.  I know he worked hard, he studied his brief.  And I even lent him my presidential debate team to work with him.  (Laughter.)  It’s confusing what happened.  (Laughter.)

But all these changes to my team are tough to handle, I’ve got to admit.  After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau.  I watched him grow up.  He’s almost like a son to me, he’s been with me so long.  And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, “Favs, you can’t leave.”  And he answered with three simple words — “yes, I can.”  (Laughter.)  Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out.  (Laughter.)  That would have been a problem.  (Laughter.)

With all these new faces, it’s hard to keep track of who is in, who is out.  And I know it’s difficult for you guys as reporters.  But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team.  If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know they’re in my cabinet.  (Laughter.)

Jack Lew is getting started on his new role as Treasury Secretary.  Jack is so low key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise.  (Laughter.)  Don’t worry, everybody, Jack signed off on that joke or a five year old drew a slinky.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know which.  (Applause.)

Another big change has been at the State Department.  Everybody has noticed that obviously.  And let’s face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow.  But John Kerry is doing great so far.  He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity.  Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits.  (Laughter.)  It’s a disturbing image.  (Laughter.)  It really is.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know where he buys them.  He is a tall guy.  (Laughter.)

And even though I’m just beginning my second term, I know that some folks are looking ahead to bigger things.  Look, it’s no secret that my Vice President is still ambitious.  But let’s face it, his age is an issue.  Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, “Joe, you are way too young to be the pope.”  (Laughter.)  “You can’t do it.  You got to mature a little bit.”  (Laughter.)

Now, I do want to end on a serious note.  I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days.  And sometimes those people are me.  (Laughter.)  But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.

In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong.  But it’s more important than ever to get it right.  And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication — and a sense of purpose — that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle.

This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world.  They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told.  And they’ve helped people understand the ways in which we’re all connected — how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.

These are extraordinary times.  The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well.  But while we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.

So I want to thank everybody for not just a wonderful evening — and, Chuck, I want to thank you for your outstanding presidency — but I also just want to thank you for the work that you do each and every day.  And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — “May the force be with you.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Rhetoric devices used in President Obama’s remarks at the dedication of Rosa Park’s statue

“Mr. Speaker, Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Leader Pelosi, Assistant Leader Clyburn; to the friends and family of Rosa Parks; to the distinguished guests who are gathered here today.

This morning, we celebrate a seamstress, slight in stature but mighty in courage (ANTITHESIS). She defied the odds, and she defied (ANAPHORA) injustice. She lived a life of activism, but also a life of dignity and grace. And in a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America — and change the world.

Rosa Parks held no elected office. She possessed no fortune; lived her life far from the formal seats of power (TRICOLON & SCESIS ONOMATON). And yet today, she takes her rightful place among those who’ve shaped this nation’s course. I thank all those persons, in particular the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, both past and present, for making this moment possible.

A childhood friend once said about Mrs. Parks, “Nobody ever bossed Rosa around and got away with it.” That’s what an Alabama driver learned on December 1, 1955. Twelve years earlier, he had kicked Mrs. Parks off his bus simply because she entered through the front door when the back door was too crowded. He grabbed her sleeve and he pushed her off the bus. It made her mad enough, she would recall, that she avoided riding his bus for a while.

And when they met again that winter evening in 1955, Rosa Parks would not be pushed. When the driver got up from his seat to insist that she give up hers, she would not be pushed (ANTISTROPHE). When he threatened to have her arrested, she simply replied, “You may do that.” And he did.

A few days later, Rosa Parks challenged her arrest. A little-known pastor, new to town and only 26 years old, stood with her — a man named Martin Luther King, Jr. So did thousands of Montgomery, Alabama commuters. They began a boycott — teachers and laborers, clergy and domestics, through rain and cold and sweltering heat, day after day, week after week, month after month (PARALLELISM, SCESIS ONOMATON & CLIMAX) walking miles if they had to, arranging carpools where they could, not thinking about the blisters on their feet, the weariness after a full day of work — walking for respect, walking for (ANAPHORA) freedom, driven by a solemn determination to affirm their God-given dignity.

Three hundred and eighty-five days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the boycott ended. Black men and women and children re-boarded the buses of Montgomery, newly desegregated, and sat in whatever seat happen to be open. And with that victory, the entire edifice of segregation, like the ancient walls of Jericho (SIMILE), began to slowly come tumbling down.

It’s been often remarked that Rosa Parks’s activism didn’t begin on that bus. Long before she made headlines, she had stood up for freedom, stood up for (ANAPHORA)equality — fighting for voting rights, rallying against discrimination in the criminal justice system, serving in the local chapter of the NAACP (TRICOLON & PARALLELISM). Her quiet leadership would continue long after she became an icon of the civil rights movement, working with Congressman Conyers to find homes for the homeless, preparing disadvantaged youth for a path to success, striving (TRICOLON & PARALLELISM) each day to right some wrong somewhere in this world.

And yet our minds fasten on that single moment on the bus — Ms. Parks alone in that seat, clutching her purse, staring out a window, waiting (TRICOLON & PARALLELISM) to be arrested. That moment tells us something about how change happens, or doesn’t happen; the choices we make, or don’t make. “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” Scripture says, and it’s true. Whether out of inertia or selfishness, whether out of (ANAPHORA) fear or a simple lack of moral imagination, we so often spend our lives as if in a fog (SIMILE), accepting injustice, rationalizing inequity, tolerating (TRICOLON & PARALLELISM) the intolerable.

Like the bus driver, but also like the passengers on the bus, we see the way things are — children hungry in a land of plenty, entire neighborhoods ravaged by violence, (TRICOLON) hobbled by job loss or illness — and we make excuses for inaction, and we say to ourselves, that’s not my responsibility, there’s nothing I can do (SCESIS ONOMATON).

Rosa Parks tell us there’s always something we can do. She tells us that we all have responsibilities, to ourselves and to one another. She reminds us (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM) that this is how change happens — not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful, but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage (ANTITHESIS) and kindness and fellow feeling and (POLYSYNDETON) responsibility that continually, stubbornly, expand our conception of justice — our conception of (ANAPHORA) what is possible.

Rosa Parks’s singular act of disobedience launched a movement. The tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of Montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind. It is because of these men and women that I stand here today. It is because of (ANAPHORA) them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair (ALLITERATION); a land truer to its founding creed.

And that is why this statue belongs in this hall — to remind us, no matter how humble or lofty our positions, just what it is that leadership requires; just what it is that citizenship requires (SYMPLOCE). Rosa Parks would have turned 100 years old this month. We do well by placing a statue of her here. But we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction (ALLITERATION).

May God bless the memory of Rosa Parks, and may God bless (ANAPHORA) these United States of America.

Rhetoric used in Obama’s remarks on the sequester (02/19/13)

President Obama made some remarks at the White House recently about the forthcoming sequester, and I’ve done the usual and identified all the rhetorical devices used; they’re highlighted in bold and their names are in capitals and brackets, e.g. (ANAPHORA). If you’re unsure about any of the terms, visit rhetorical devices for full explanations of each with examples.

Every speech or presentation should have a clear, consistent theme, and the theme here is about being fair and reasonable, and (in Obama’s opinion) expecting the ‘top 1%’ to share more of the burden. Churchill once said:

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

The President has certainly taken this advice to heart. I’ve counted seven references to ‘the rich’. I’ve italicised them in the transcript to make them easier to spot:

  • tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans
  • increased tax rates on the top 1 percent
  • tax loopholes and deductions for the well off and well connected
  • makes sure that billionaires can’t pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries
  • the Republicansask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations
  • (Republicans don’t want to close) a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans
  • a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations
  • a special tax interest loophole that the vast majority of Americans don’t benefit from

Transcript

“As I said in my State of the Union address last week, our top priority must be to do everything we can to grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs. That’s our top priority. That’s our North Star. That drives every decision we make (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & SCESIS ONOMATON). And it has to drive every decision that Congress and everybody in Washington makes over the next several years.

And that’s why it’s so troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of automatic, severe budget cuts to take place that will do the exact opposite. It won’t help the economy, won’t create jobs, will visit hardship on a whole lot of people (TRICOLON).

Here’s what’s at stake. Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion. More than two-thirds of that was through some pretty tough spending cuts. The rest of it was through raising taxes — tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. And together, when you take the spending cuts and the increased tax rates on the top 1 percent, it puts us more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Now, Congress, back in 2011, also passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about a trillion dollars of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. And by the way, the whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth. And so this was all designed to say we can’t do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration.

Unfortunately, Congress didn’t compromise. They haven’t come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we’ve got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday.

Now, if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach (METAPHOR) to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research (TRICOLON). It won’t consider whether we’re cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on (ANTITHESIS) every single day. It (ANAPHORA) doesn’t make those distinctions.

Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands (CLIMAX) of Americans will lose access (PARALLELISM & MESODIPLOSIS) to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.

And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. And as our military leaders have made clear, changes like thisnot well thought through, not (ANAPHORA) phased in properly — changes like this (DIACOPE) affect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world.

So these cuts are not smart. They are not (MESODIPLOSIS )fair. They will hurt our economy. They will (ANAPHORA) add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction — people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.

And that’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists, they’ve already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as sequestration, are a bad idea. They’re not good for our economy. They’re not (ANAPHORA) how we should run our government.

And here’s the thing: They don’t have to happen. There is a smarter way to do this –- to reduce our deficits without harming our economy. But Congress has to act in order for that to happen.

Now, for two years, I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts. I outlined it again last week at the State of the Union. I am willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working. I’ve laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs that can achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that were proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. I’m willing to save hundreds of billions of dollars by enacting comprehensive tax reform that gets rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well off and well connected, without raising tax rates.

I believe such a balanced approach that combines tax reform with some additional spending reforms, done in a smart, thoughtful way is the best way to finish the job of deficit reduction and avoid these cuts once and for all that could hurt our economy, slow our recovery, put people out of work (TRICOLON). And most Americans agree with me.

The House and the Senate are working on budgets that I hope reflect this approach. But if they can’t get such a budget agreement done by next Friday — the day these harmful cuts begin to take effect (DIACOPE) — then at minimum, Congress should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would prevent these harmful cuts — not to kick the can down the road (METAPHOR), but to give them time to work together (ANTITHESIS) on a plan that finishes the job of deficit reduction in a sensible way.

I know Democrats in the House and in the Senate have proposed such a plan — a balanced plan, one that pairs more spending cuts with tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and makes sure that billionaires can’t pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

And I know that Republicans have proposed some ideas, too. I have to say, though, that so far at least the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations, so the burden is all on first responders or seniors or (POLYSYNDETON) middle-class families (TRICOLON).They double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful (ALLITERATION) cuts that I’ve outlined. They slash Medicare and investments that create good, middle-class jobs. And so far at least what they’ve expressed is a preference where they’d rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans. Not one.

Well, that’s not balanced. That would be like (SIMILE) Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. It’s all taxes. That’s not the position Democrats have taken. That’s certainly not the position I’ve taken (SYMPLOCE). It’s wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction. And that’s why I will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.

So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security (TRICOLON) and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they (HYPOPHORA X2) rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations? That’s the choice.

Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their job because you want to protect some special interest tax loophole? Are you willing to (ANAPHORA) have teachers laid off, or kids not have access to Head Start, or (POLYSYNDETON) deeper cuts in student loan programs just because you want to protect a special tax interest loophole that the vast majority of Americans don’t benefit from? That’s the choice. That’s the question (ANAPHORA & SCESIS ONOMATON).

And this is not an abstraction. There are people whose livelihoods are at stake. There are communities that are going to be impacted in a negative way. And I know that sometimes all this squabbling in Washington seems very abstract, and in the abstract, people like the idea, there must be some spending we can cut, (ANAPHORA) waste out there. There absolutely is. But this isn’t the right way to do it.

So my door is open (METAPHOR). I’ve put tough cuts and reforms on the table. I am willing to work with anybody to get this job done. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But nobody should want these cuts to go through, because the last thing our families can afford right now is pain imposed unnecessarily by partisan recklessness and ideological rigidity here in Washington.

As I said at the State of the Union, the American people have worked too hard, too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause yet another one. And it seems like every three months around here there’s some manufactured crisis. We’ve got more work to do than to just try to dig ourselves out of these self-inflicted wounds (2 x [very mixed] METAPHORS).

And while a plan to reduce our deficit has to be part of our agenda, we also have to remember deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. We learned in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was President, nothing shrinks the deficit faster than a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs. That should be our driving focus — making America a magnet for good jobs. Equipping our people with the skills required to fill those jobs (TRICOLON & ANTISTOPHE). Making sure their hard work leads to a decent living. Those are the things we should be pushing ourselves to think about and work on every single day. That’s what the American people expect. That’s what (ANAPHORA) I’m going to work on every single day to help deliver.

So I need everybody who’s watching today to understand we’ve got a few days. Congress can do the right thing. We can avert just one more Washington-manufactured problem that slows our recovery, and bring down our deficits in a balanced, responsible way. That’s my goal. That’s what would do right by these first responders. That’s what would do right by America’s middle class. That’s what (ANAPHORA) I’m going to be working on and fighting for not just over the next few weeks, but over the next few years (ANTITHESIS).

Thanks very much, everybody. Thank you, guys, for your service.”

How to sound less formal and more normal

If you’re one of the very few presenters who goes to the trouble of actually writing out your presentation in full, you’ll know what usually happens when you read it aloud for the first time. It just doesn’t sound right. If you’re making the cardinal error of reading it to your audience (NEVER do this, if you can possibly help it), you’ll probably find yourself making a few improvisations as you go along.

Why? Because as soon as you sit in front of the laptop, your brain automatically goes into written language mode. And there are some very important differences between how we write for people and how we speak to them.

The other side of the coin is that what we say when speaking without a script sounds fine at the time, but if it’s transcribed verbatim, looks disjointed, repetitive and ungrammatical on paper, with jerky, unfinished sentences and abrupt mid-sentence diversions. Take this quote from ex-UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown as an example. Perfectly understandable, but disjointed and ungrammatical:

“I have only [just] found out the links between The Sunday Times and what I would call elements of the criminal underworld who were being paid, while known criminals, to do work that was, if you like, the most disgusting of work, not against me only, but against people who were completely defenceless.”

This is because when we speak, we make much less effort to obey the rules of grammar. In fact, a large percentage of what most people say doesn’t follow the rules. But when you’re writing, you’re thinking about what you’re going to say, and you have to concentrate on grammar even if only because your word processing grammar checker will prompt you if you make a mistake.

Now I’m not suggesting you deliberately ignore the rules of grammar, but if you make a special effort to speak correctly you’ll end up sounding stiff, formal, robotic, wooden and pompous. You’ve probably seen scores of presenters who’ve done this, especially at big set-pieces like company conferences. You’ve heard of Harry Potter’s `Cloak of Invisibility’? Well, they don a ‘Cloak of Formality’ and come across as if they’ve left their personality behind on their seat when they got up to speak.

K.I.S.S. -Keep It Simple Stupid!

Sometimes speakers are tempted to show off their eloquence (or superiority) and level of education by the judicious employment of polysyllabic words where their monosyllabic cousins would suffice (exactly what I just did then – a more effective way of saying the same thing is ‘using $10 words when c10 ones would do‘). But if you look at some of the famous speeches I feature on my site one thing that will strike you is the simplicity of most of the language used.

Now I am not encouraging you to become a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobe and I do not mean to floccinaucinihilipilificate about large vocabularies (just showing off myself there – the first means a person who has a fear of using long words, the second is the act of estimating something as worthless). It is just that simple words are usually far more effective in getting a message across than complex ones.

If your audience has to keep dipping into a mental dictionary for clarification every twenty seconds, you’ll lose them! And if you keep it simple, then when you do deliberately use a long or unusual word to emphasis a specific point, it will stand out and be remembered. Take the penultimate paragraph of JFK’s Inaugural Address, a masterpiece in simplicity:

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Out of 111 words, only eight have more than two syllables, and again, none of them particularly fancy or unusual (history, generations, maximum, responsibility, generation, devotion, endeavor and Americans).

Yet politicians, journalists and businessmen feel the need to demonstrate their education and supposed intellectual superiority to the rest of us by using what can only be described as gobbledygook, bureaucratese (such as UK politician Tessa Jowell, saying we need more ‘sustainable eating in schools‘ when she really means ‘more fruit and vegetables‘) or even gibberish.

So . . . . Never use a long word if you can think of a short one. In his unpublished ‘Scaffolding of Rhetoric’ Churchill wrote:

“The unreflecting often imagine that the effects of oratory are produced by the use of long words. The error of this idea will appear from what has been written. The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek. All the speeches of great English rhetoricians–except when addressing highly cultured audiences–display an uniform preference for short, homely words of common usage–so long as such words can fully express their thoughts and feelings….”

When Churchill refers to the ‘more ancient’ words he is referring to those of Germanic origin. Much of everyday English comes from German and French, but the more basic words we use tend to be Germanic. This is because after the Norman conquest, the 95% of the population who were commoners still spoke Anglo Saxon while the only people who spoke French were the ruling elite.

The result is that for many things there are two words in use: a short, plain, ‘Germanic’ word and an alternative, ‘fancy’, French one. Use the short one if you can.

So don’t say, ‘We shall endeavor to ascertain‘ when you can say ‘we’ll try to find out‘. Don’t say ‘bring to completion‘ when you can simply say ‘finish‘, and don’t say ‘in order to ensure that‘ when you can say ‘so that‘.

Abbreviate

When speaking conversationally, 99% of the time we shorten words, changing ‘I do not’ to ‘I don’t’ and ‘we will’ to ‘we’ll’. If you don’t do this when presenting, you’ll sound stiff and pedantic.

Active vs Passive

Use the Active Voice. Try not to use the passive when you can use the active one instead (before you email to point it out, I know that you can probably find hundreds of examples of me using it on this site and in my E-book; sometimes some do manage to slip through). The passive voice is used where something happens to the subject of the sentence (see – I nearly used the passive and wrote ‘where the subject is acted upon‘ ), and it usually involves the verb ‘to be’. For example, “a decision was made”, or “prices were increased”, or “songs were sung”.

Very often politicians use it when they are seeking to avoid blame or responsibility. So “mistakes were made” is often an easier way of saying “we (or heavens forbid, ‘I’ ) made mistakes ”. Likewise, “a decision was taken” can be a way of avoiding the dreaded (for a politician) words “I decided …”.

The reason the active voice is more effective is that it is far more direct, and usually shorter than the passive. Thus Eric Clapton’s line “I shot the sheriff,” is both shorter and more effective than “the sheriff was shot by me”. And “We will fight them on the beaches” beats “They will be fought by us on the beaches” hands down, I think you’ll agree. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” is much better than “it is dreamed the speaker”.

A good way to clear up your speech of the passive voice is to circle every use of the verb ‘to be’ (including the future and past tenses, e.g. ‘will’, ‘was’ and ‘were’) to see if they are used in a passive way and if they can be converted to the active.

However, you won’t always want to do this. Good English contains a balance of the two, and sometimes using the passive voice simply sounds better, especially when the action has been carried out by someone unknown (e.g. “a car was broken into last night on Church St.” or “a fight broke out”) or whose identification isn’t important (e.g. “the mail is delivered twice a day”). The problem arises when the passive is over used. That’s when speech becomes over-complex and unintelligible.