To Jaw-Jaw: Rhetorical Techniques used by Winston Churchill

I was thinking about Winston Churchill the other day, as you do. Actually I was mostly thinking about some of the rhetorical devices Churchill used in his speeches, such as anaphora. And that’s because I’d written different sectors, different clients, different countries in some copy and I was explaining to the client how that was ok.

Anaphora, you may recall is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause for dramatic effect. Take this quote from Churchill delivered to the House of Commons in 1940.

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Powerful. I can’t imagine Cameron or Corbyn being able to pull this off. (Let’s hope they never have to.)

Unlike most modern politicians, Churchill was a phenomenal writer and wrote all his own speeches. He even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 and claimed “history will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”.

As John Kennedy stated: “In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone – and most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life – he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Here are some of Churchill’s other rhetorical techniques.

The repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words:

“I see also the dull, drilled, docile, brutish masses of the Hun soldiery plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts.”

“We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will.”


Repetition of words at the end of successive phrases.

“…the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace…”


The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases:

“The government cannot make up their mind or they cannot get the prime minister to make up his mind. So they go out in a strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

“If we are together, nothing is impossible, if we are divided all will fail.”


The repetition of words in successive clauses, but with their order transposed:

‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”


Similarity in the sound between internal vowels in neighbouring words.

“The odious apparatus of Nazi rule.”


Bringing together various points made throughout a speech and presenting them in a climatic way:

“Your organisation, your vigilance, your devotion to duty, your zeal for the cause must be raised to the highest intensity.”


Use of harsh phrasing for effect:

“That hideous apparatus of aggression which gashed Holland into ruin and slavery…”


A highly unusual or outlandish comparison:

“If we fail, the whole world, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister by the lights of perverted science.”


Emphatic repetition:

“…this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.”


Asking a question and immediately answering it:

“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”



Deliberate understatement for dramatic effect:

“Business carried on as usual during alterations on the map of Europe.”


Comparing two things (that are often not alike) by stating that one is the other:

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”


Use of a single term or image to represent a wider concept:

“We welcome Russia to her rightful place…we welcome her flag upon the sea.”


A sentence or phrase that has an unexpected ending:

“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.”


The use of similar-sounding words or phrases:

‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”


A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word or sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.

“Now the enemy [Germany] is busy in Russia is the time to make hell while the sun shines.”


A comparison between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common:

“(General de Gaulle) … had a face like a llama surprised in the bath.”


The use of words, phrases and examples in threes:

“Never in the history of human endeavour has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

  • _jasperpye
    Posted at 14:47h, 22 October Reply

    To Jaw-Jaw: Rhetorical Techniques used by Winton Churchill. Via @Turnerink

  • Hezza48
    Posted at 14:57h, 22 October Reply

    We shall write on the beaches, we shall write in the fields, we will never rhetorically surrender.
    Via @Phrasee

  • How Winston Churchill Presented to Inspire | secondnature
    Posted at 03:29h, 11 May Reply

    […] No one used metaphors better than Churchill. For the time it was extraordinarily brave for a war leader to use such flowery language as “sunlit uplands” when talking about something so important, but he knew that it would evoke the necessary emotion in the audience. By using metaphors, Churchill would effectively give his audience a break from some of the more challenging content in his speeches. Using metaphors to provide juxtaposition and contrast is vital to sustain the interest of any audience (more here). […]

  • Jacaranda
    Posted at 14:06h, 25 July Reply

    I think he broke his own rule of 3 by saying more than that. we shall fight on this, that and the other. then he added another. How many people now remember what the fourth one was?

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