Recently, Thaddeus Tague dug up an old document that Ethos has used for coaching: a figures of speech handout. “Figure of speech” broadly refers to deliberate patterns or abnormalities in language with a goal of producing some effect in the audience; it includes things such as metaphors, alliteration, hyperbole, etc. In the past, some Ethos bloggers such as Noah Howard have written about the value of using them in your speaking/debating (as well as some examples and drills to help practice using them). Occasionally it is a good idea to revisit and reemphasize points from previous articles. Thus, in this article I will share the document (see above), link to some other lists for figures of speech (see here for a Noah’s short list, here for a medium list, and here for a long list), and outline reasons to use figures of speech.
Four reasons to use figures of speech
This list definitely is not intended to be exhaustive; it is intended to illustrate ideas and be straight to the point:
- More emotional/dramatic, boosting persuasion in the moment. This is especially true when appealing to pathos (e.g., describing some injustice), but it can also be helpful for your logos (logic), such as when you neatly reverse an opponent’s argument/analogy with a metaphor of your own. The result is that figures of speech can cause the judge to assign more credibility/weight to your arguments in the moment.
- Memorability. Especially when you have community judges—or any judges who are otherwise not flowing very closely—it is crucial that your points are memorable. Neat, alliterative taglines (for example) will probably stick out in the judges mind when they are trying to think about what you said in response to disadvantage two.
- Humor, making you more likeable (among other things). Ethos bloggers have written multiple articles in the past about the “how” and “why” of humor, frequently noting that humor really seems to help in rounds. Many figures of speech, including exaggeration/hyperbole, understatement, and puns (whether you personally like them or not) can be used to this effect. Of course, just be careful not to overdo it!
- Clarity/illustration. Sometimes the central point you are trying to make incorporates a lot of arguments, evidence, and examples all into one idea. In such cases, using similes/metaphors/allegories can help bring all the pieces together to paint a broad (even if somewhat fuzzy) picture for the audience. In some other cases, using the right amount of hyperbole can effectively convey the significance of your point.
When applied to debate, most of the above points focus on winning a round (i.e., persuading a judge to vote for your side). However, I would also make it extra clear that even when most figures of speech don’t make a big difference on this aspect of the judge’s vote (as probably tends to be more of the case with experienced, flow-heavy judges), they can still potentially help you with speaker points. (And, aside from awards, I frequently saw that speaker points can be a crucial decider for whether you break at some tournaments.)
Ultimately, figures of speech are a great way to spice up your speeches, whether in speech or debate. Although it certainly is not exhaustive, the handout included in this article can be printed and used as a reference sheet when trying to practice/use such figures of speech. If you haven’t already been using them, you can start by incorporating some in your prepared speeches (e.g., 1ACs, OOs, Persuasives). Then, you can move on to trying to incorporate some into your mid-round speeches (e.g., rebuttals). If you want to practice using more-adventurous/spontaneous figures of speech but are worried that it might distract/undercut you, you can just try challenging yourself when you are in practice or when you are up against less-experienced teams.