Cadence and Credibility

I’m watching early inauguration coverage on the BBC Word Service, whose coverage is marginally less moronic (which church will Obama join?) than American network and cable coverage (unspeakable). I’ll switch to C-SPAN when they turn off their phone-in lines. The crowds are already massive, and the people waving their little American flags look active and happy. Hope. It’s a wonderful emotion to be reintroduced to.

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post this morning on Obama’s oratory. (Lots of good articles today in the Post, as you’d expect.) The author talks about the effectiveness of O’s technique and the appeal of his evident cool in the face of the modern cynicism that typically dismisses oratory as phony. But he also gets close to the point that it’s phony speechmaking that makes people cynical, and that Obama’s so far rings true. He sites iambs (FDR, Martin Luther King), and anapests (Churchill’s “We shall FIGHT on the BEACHes . . . we shall FIGHT in the FIELDS . . . we shall FIGHT in the HILLS . . . we shall NEVer surRENDer,” which he tell us is also “anaphora, repeating phrases at the beginning of clauses. Note, too, that in defense of England [Churchill] uses nothing but Old English words except for “surrender,” which comes from the French.”) Well worth a read.



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