August 5, 2020

Rhetorical Device of the Month: Diacope

Rhetorical Devices , Just For Fun , The Buckley Experience , Resources , Public Speaking

Even when we're not aware of it, we're using many of the same rhetorical techniques Aristotle, Cicero, Abraham LincolnFrederick DouglassWinston ChurchillMartin Luther King, Jr. and other greats have employed in public speaking. Each month, The Buckley School's resident students of classical rhetoric explain a rhetorical device and show us how it’s being used for good and for evil. Above, Popeye showing the strength of this month's rhetorical device in an image courtesy of Lou Gold.

"It is what it is."

– Donald Trump using diacope in his assessment of the coronavirus

Burn, baby, burn.

Bond. James Bond.

There's a structure here that's essential to Disco Inferno and 007. The device in play is diacope. And boy oh boy, does it work.

Etymologist Mark Forsyth has researched what makes movie lines memorable. He describes diacope as "a verbal sandwich"—and says the James Bond line is the ultimate example of how this simple trick is remarkably effective.

I yam what I yam

Diacope (pronounced dee-ACK-uh-pay) is, as you may be catching on, a specific type of repetition—when a word or phrase is repeated, with a word or phrase shoved in between: Run, Forrest, run or Oh captain, my captain. Those are examples of vocative diacope, the simplest form.

Add a modifier before the second go round and you move up a level to elaborative diacope: From sea to shining sea

Repeat the word or phrase three times and you achieve extended diacope: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

Aren’t we repeating ourselves?

Of course, if you've checked out our other rhetorical devices of the month, you may feel you've seen this one before. Not quite—but yes, oh, yes, we can relate.

Many of the most effective rhetorical devices use repetition. Diacope, it turns out, can be incorporated into some of those other repetition schemes. Rather than stress about sorting this out, we'd rather enjoy the power repetition has to elevate ordinary words.

We think of a eulogy from the recent memorial service for John Lewis. His deputy chief of staff Jamila Thompson said Lewis always told his team: Make it simple. Make it plain. Make it sing. (This happens to be an example of anaphoric repetition as well as great public speaking advice.)

Clearly, diacope is a magical little thing that can help you do all three.

Below, see Mark Forsyth elaborate on the wonders of diacope in a video for Fast Company that's a good bit of fun:

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