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Rhetorically speaking…
Speechwriters Blog on Speechwriting

Introducing the rule of four…?

Rhetoricians often rave about the magical rule of three, known as tricolon. This is when soundbites are built up on three individual parts, eg “Education Education Education” or “I came, I saw, I conquered.” or “This, that and the other.” The effect produced is one of completeness and finality. It appears to wrap up an argument and close off alternatives.

But, in his speech to Birmingham Chamber of Commerce last Friday, David Cameron seemed to be toying with a new “rule of four”. The main rhetorical flourishes at both ends of the speech were in fours.

At the beginning: ”Orders are down. Sales have slumped. Import costs are rising. Credit has dried up.

Ar the end: “We’ll get through: stronger, better, richer and fairer.”

The main argument of the speech was also a four: ”Tackling debt. Rebalancing our economy. Getting people back into work. Regulating our economy properly. If we do all these things, we can confront - and will overcome - the fundamental weaknesses of our economy.

Both of these sections sound a bit peculiar to me. Slightly off-beat: like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, the bar goes on just slightly longer than expected.

One of the cardinal rules of using rhetoric is not to be caught using rhetoric. And the rule of three can sometimes sound a little tired and obvious, it has been devalued and diminished through over-use. By spurning this old rule, Cameron may be reinforcing this idea that he is a new kind of politician with a new kind of political language.


Posted by Simon Lancaster on March 16th, 2009 :: Filed under Politics, Soundbites
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