Proving you can do it

by Peter Watts

Thought is language, and language is thought. We think in words and that’s why the special speech-patterns used in rhetoric can be so powerful.

They help you, and your audience to think in whole new ways.

One of my favourites is a pattern called “Argumentum a Fortiori”. It means argument from strength. It’s a form of logical proof.

To convince an audience that something is possible, think of the most extreme situation in which your case has triumphed, and make the argument:

“If we can survive / endure / triumph / function in those circumstances, then we can achieve anything.”

Here’s why a Fortiori is so wonderful. To use it, you have to recall your victories, and thereby build not only your audience’s confidence, but also your own.

This week saw a superb example of a Fortiori.

The backstory to this quote is the widely condemned decision of the Indian Supreme Court to re-instate an 1861 article of the Indian penal code, making it illegal to be gay in India.

In a New York Times article of December 15th, an Indian activist called Gautam Bhan used the most wonderful a fortiori argument. When asked if he was daunted about now having to fight the Indian Supreme Court, Bhan responded:

“Do you know what’s daunting? It is that moment when you are 15 and you are terrified of who you are. If we have survived that, the Supreme Court does not know what fear looks like.”

Now that’s a Fortiori!


  1. Thanks again Peter for the simple way you help build the speech writing skills of us all! Thanks for the Argumentum a Fortiori figure of speech, and the example.

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