Maria Miller and the jewel of Epanodos

trilliant diamond cut

A polished performance with a cut-jewel of rhetoric

by Peter Watts

Maria Miller, the UK Minister for Culture, used a figure of speech so rare and beautifully powerful that it is seldom encountered outside the Old Testament. To speak directly into the minds of her opponents she used Epanodos; blending logic and emotion in a way guaranteed to be heard and heeded across the most passionate of debates.

The Roman writer Quintilian described figures of speech as being like jewels. We place them within our speaking so that important ideas will catch the ear as fine gems catch the eye.

Figures are word patterns that vary in some way from standard spoken language. Quintilian thought of them as jewels in a treasure chest. I think of them as spells in a book of magic. They do, after all, rely on knowing just the right patterns of words. And when the correct spell is used, the audience is moved. Sometimes magically.

This week the British Parliament passed new laws to bring full marriage equality to the United Kingdom. While the vote was overwhelmingly approved, a small minority of lawmakers had strong reservations, and the pre-vote debate, led by Ms. Miller, was heated.

As I listened to the debate, the following phrase from Ms. Miller’s speech leapt out at me.

“Equal marriage should not come at the cost of freedom of faith, nor freedom of faith come at the cost of equal marriage.

We are capable of accommodating both.”

This is Epanodos, and it is so rare that there are few quoted examples to be found outside the bible or the most classical of poetry. For example, this piece written by the poet John Milton:

“O more exceeding love, or law more just? Just law, indeed, but more exceeding love!”

Epanodos involves elements of a sentence being repeated, but in reverse order. The second half of the sentence will be almost a mirror image of the first, and as with all things seen in a looking glass, that second portion will appear magically reversed.

Listening to the debate news coverage throughout the day, I heard that phrase repeated time after time across multiple news networks. Like one of Quintilian’s jewels, this one phrase had become the single most glittering section of the debate, and had caught the ear of every professional commentator.

The key to using figures successfully is to choose the right spell for the right occasion. So why would the Minister have chosen this one?

Epanodos stands out, whereas as most figures are far less showy. It is also incredibly rare in political speeches, but vaguely familiar to those who know their bibles.

This figure therefore takes the Minister’s key message about marriage equality, and codes that message to chime particularly 220px-Maria_Miller_Officialstrongly for lawmakers familiar with bible passages. In other words, the exact same lawmakers who needed special reassurance during the debate.

The Minister’s choice of the rare Epanodos figure couldn’t have been better.

You can use Epanodos in your own presentations.

The trick is to use it very sparingly. Just once. This is a figure that stands out, and if overused will look as garish as a bling bracelet packed with paste jewels. Used just once though, it will shine like a cut diamond.

What you need to do is to identify a section of your presentation that can use a neither / nor combination. It’s for when you want to say something to the effect of;

“Proposition A, does not come at the expense of proposition B. We can do both.”

Here are two very simple examples:

“Quality does not need to come at the expense of productivity, nor productivity at the expense of quality. We can achieve both.”

“The environment need not be sacrificed in the name of growth, nor growth sacrificed in the name of the environment. Both can be sustained.”

Enjoy playing with Epanodos. With the combined qualities of logic and poetic elegance, it will make your key message leap out from your presentation.

And thank you to Ms. Miller, not just for championing equality, but also for your powerful choice of words.

The Queen’s first speech

by Peter Watts

You’re young, inexperienced, female, and taking over an empire when the only women in the boardroom are usually taking shorthand.

No pressure, but here comes your first major speech.

In her Coronation Speech, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II displayed royal power combined with technical mastery in how to portray it. When we zoom into one just one small section of the speech, we see the mechanics used to establish that power.

Assertive in a time of change

Society after World War 2 was changing. Old certainties were gone. At just 26 years old, the new Queen needed a speech that would stamp her authority without appearing to be stamping her foot. Any hint in the speech of stiffness or autocracy could have spelt disaster for her reign.

To achieve her goal, the Queen used an amplification technique that would gently yet assertively stake her claim to royal respect.

Amplifying the right to rule:

From Wife, to Mother, to Grandmother, to history, & on to God

The amplification chosen by the Queen came in three phrases:

“Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust. In this resolve I have my husband to support me.
He shares all my ideals and all my affection for you.”

Establishing herself and her husband as new parents to the nation, the Queen describes how they are full of “ideals” and “affection” for their subjects. She is co-opting the terminology of a parent. Looking at the young Queen and her husband who were indeed young parents at the time, it was a metaphor instantly understandable to all.

The Queen then moved to the middle section of the amplification. It is short, but crucial. In it, the Queen tackled head-on the challenge presented by her youthful accession to the throne, neutralising it by emphasising her descent from two supreme examples of feminine Royal power:

“Although my experience is so short and my task so new,
I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty.”

Whilst her father and grandfather had both been much loved, the immediate association is not of the two Kings, but of the two formidable Queens,Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, who had ruled alongside them.

Today many of us remember Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as an elderly lady with a penchant for sky blue frocks and matching hats, but the 1950’s knew her as the Queen who refused to abandon London during the war-time bombing of the Blitz. They knew her as the woman who welcomed the bombing of her Buckingham Palace with the words “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East-End (of London) in the face”. They knew her as the woman so able to mobilise the nation’s passion that Hitler described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe”.

Queen Mary, meanwhile, had been the Queen’s grandmother. A formidably imperial dowager Queen and Empress, she held the empire together through the chaos of the abdication crisis, when her eldest son gave up the throne for Wallace Simpson.

Dying just weeks before the Coronation, her death-bed command was that the crowning of her granddaughter was not be delayed under any circumstances. Queen Mary was in the hearts of the nation as Elizabeth took the throne.

In mourning for King George VI. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Queen Mary, and the uncrowned Queen Elizabeth II

In that one short line, “I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty.” the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II marshalled powerful matriarchal guns behind her throne.

The final phrase of the amplification brought her claim to the boil:

“There is also this. I have behind me not only the splendid traditions and the annals of more than a thousand years,
but the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new;
of lands and races different in histories and origins but all,
by God’s will united in spirit and aim.”

These short phrases pile on top of each other to a crescendo combining history, the Empire, and the peoples of the world, before all being topped-off by union with God Himself.

The Queen’s claim to majesty had now been securely laid before the Empire. Starting with the human statement of a wife and mother, the Queen transformed step-by-step into a hereditary monarch as ordained by God.

A classic amplification.

Understated and modest. Crafted and confident.

Fit for a Queen.

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