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Speech

  • ... he had no sense of theater. His delivery was so slow and so methodical it was like reading the entire Bible through a microscope.

  • She talks with deliberation, as if pressing out a ruffle on each word.

  • ... he talked as if every sentence had been carefully rehearsed; every semi-colon, every comma, was in exactly the right place, and his rounded periods dropped to the floor and bounced about like tiny rubber balls.

  • 'I may not know much' — another form of locution often favored by her. The tone in which it was spoken utterly belied the words; the tone told you that not only did she know much, but all.

  • ... I am living with a rising generation which talks like people coming out of ether.

  • The men are mostly so slow, their thoughts overrun 'em, an' they can only catch 'em by the tail. I can count a stocking-top while a man's getting's tongue ready; an' when he outs wi' his speech at last, there's little broth to be made on't. It's your dead chicks take the longest hatchin'.

  • Thy speech is like an hourglass; turn it down / The other way, 't will stand as well ...

  • Speech is but broken light upon the depth / Of the unspoken ...

  • Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact ...

  • There is something very cheerful and courageous in the setting-out of a child on a journey of speech with so small baggage and with so much confidence ...

  • Speech ... is an invention of man's to prevent him from thinking.

  • The man obviously wanted to tell him something — and as obviously had lost the art of simple narration. Words had become to him a means of obscuring facts — not of revealing them. He was an adept in the art of the useful phrase — that is to say, the phrase that falls soothingly on the ear and is quite empty of meaning.

  • He could fling words across the room like knives.

  • 'Mother means to do the right thing.' Dorothy paused and let the implication go on without her, like a riderless horse: but she never does, of course.

  • Her beauty made her silences as important as speech and much less troublesome ...

  • [She] pronounced vowels as if they were a little indecent, and one had better get back to consonants as quickly as possible.

  • You're a pretty one to talk about language now; you could be took up anywhere and jailed for most of the verbs you uses in an hour.

  • She had one of those high-pitched apologetic voices which seemed to make every pronouncement sound like a spirit message, inconclusive but faintly ominous.

  • 'It's like anything else,' Mrs. Moone said, largely. She said it quite often, I noticed, one of those fat, loose remarks that seem to settle down over everything, like a collapsing tent.

  • 'Well, Ipsie, all I can say is ... ' But she never said anything more, so perhaps that really was all she could say.

  • Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being.

  • Speech with him was a convenience, like a spoon; he did not use it oftener than was necessary. In England that is not very often, such a great deal is taken for granted there; it is a kind of cult to know how much you may leave unsaid. You inherit accumulations of silence, and Kaye belongs to a very old family.

  • If you have anything to tell me of importance, for God's sake begin at the end.

  • ... he landed on the French word the way a hen lands on the water, skeptical, but hoping for the best.

  • Bandying words with Jud Clasby would be like trying to outgrunt a pig.

  • The less said the better.

  • She was not a woman of many words: for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas ...

  • I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.

  • Neatness of phrase is so closely akin to wit that it is often accepted as its substitute.

  • It's not 'natural' to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting, articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little — have few verbal means. Eloquence — thinking in words — is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, a heightened painful individuality. In groups, it's more natural to sing, to dance, to pray: given, rather than invented (individual) speech.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1976, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • I like people who refuse to speak until they are ready to speak.

  • You kin tame a bear. You kin tame a wild-cat and you kin tame a panther. ... You kin tame arything, son, excusin' the human tongue.

  • I would have praised him: I had plenty of praise in my heart; but alas! no words on my lips. Who has words at the right moment?

  • ... the modes of speech are scarcely more variable than the modes of silence.

    • Hannah More,
    • "Thoughts on Conversation," Essays on Various Subjects ()
  • ... a fair degree of literacy of speech ... is increasingly rare in politicians and not necessarily regarded as an asset.

  • ... she spoke English with a foreigner's extreme caution, as though entering an unexplored forest full of dangers.

  • Now and then I asked a question. Daddy would preface his answer with the assertion, 'I hear what you're saying beneath that!' It gratified me with its implication that there was a deeper meaning to my words than even I understood. If only I could discover what I really meant!

  • Pronunciation has made many an innocent word sound like a doctor's orders for a stomach pump ...

    • Zelda Fitzgerald,
    • "Scandalabra" (1932), in Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings ()
  • Most of us do not use speech to express thought. We use it to express feelings.

  • What you say is who you are. How you say it is your style.

    • Jennifer Stone,
    • "Black Is Beautiful," in Mama Bears News & Notes ()
  • One is so apt to cheapen a thing when one tries hastily to put it into words, and ever afterward it is never quite the same.

  • Speech is our second possession, after the soul — and perhaps we have no other possession in this world.

  • ... when one never speaks, one has nothing to say because one has too much to say.

    • Ingrid Bergman,
    • 1951, in Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story ()
  • Violence of the tongue is very real — sharper than any knife ...

    • Mother Teresa,
    • in Kathryn Spink, ed., In the Silence of the Heart ()
  • ... the father was, till this parliament, a senator, a man of few words, but less meaning ...

  • ... Miss Milner had the quality peculiar to wits, to speak the thought that first occurs, which thought has generally truth on its side.

  • A great many people think that polysyllables are a sign of intelligence ...

  • Speech, for Slats, was a thing to fill up silence, to keep thought from flowing into his mind as air pours into a vacuum.

  • There is no doubt about it: we are judged by our language as much as (perhaps more than) we are judged by our appearance, our choice of associates, our behavior. Language communicates so much more than ideas; it reveals our intelligence, our knowledge of a topic, our creativity, our ability to think, our self-confidence, et cetera.

  • Cynical speech is characterized by a lengthening of vowel sounds in the syllable that is normally accented, i.e., 'Woooonderful.' Derivation of this attitude can be traced to the manufacture of the first synthetic fabrics. 'That sweater's proooobably acryyyylic.'

  • This woman always has plenty to say but she never says anything unless it's already been said by somebody else. With her it's always 'my husband maintains' or 'according to the Daily Express' or 'a man on television was saying last night,' and never I say or I think.

  • The most flattering words are not those which we fashion, but those which escape us unthinkingly.

  • The first rule for speaking well is to think well.

    • Madame de Lambert,
    • in J. De Finod, ed., A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness ()
  • How I wish I were able to say what I think ...

  • Sometimes speech is no more than a device for saying nothing — and a neater one than silence.

  • Words are magic: they can whistle out their evil in a man, but they can also persuade the sleeping angel in him to wake up and speak its wisdom. But silence can never create either excellence or virtue.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1960, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • He has a very pretty kind of conversation; 'tis like a parenthesis. ... Yes, it might be all left out, and never missed.

  • Vocabulary is ... a sensitive indicator of thought — or at least of the absence of it.

  • Real speech can only come from complete silence. Incomplete silence is as fussy as deliberate conversation.

  • Clear thought makes clear speech.

  • Fortify yourself against seductive eloquence.

  • I have always been vaguely uncomfortable around an English accent, particularly if it's been bred in Mayfair, and this one sounded like it was being ladled out on a Georgian spoon, with all the appropriate hallmarks.

  • My daddy used to maintain, if you have to use ten-dollar words, what you're trying to say isn't worth a dime.

  • ... to know how to say what others only know how to think, is what makes men poets or sages; and to dare to say what others only dare to think, makes men martyrs or reformers, or both.

  • Chauncy Burr ... talks well, possibly better than he thinks. But this is a common failing.

    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
    • 1851, in Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, eds., Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters Diary and Reminiscences, vol. 2 ()
  • I never saw so intelligent a man have so much trouble in getting out a connected sentence. Ever since I have known him, he has desired to have a long talk with me, but he never gets started; and yet each time he meets me with renewed zest for the outpouring. It is like getting congealed liquid from a demijohn; you know the jug is large and full, but getting the contents out is the problem.

    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
    • 1880, in Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, eds., Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters Diary and Reminiscences, vol. 2 ()
  • Nothing shows the kind of fool you are as quick as your tongue.

  • In our deepest moments we say the most inadequate things.

  • ... people do not react to what you say; instead, they react to how you say what you say.

  • I have long suspected that the power of speech is not a power at all, but a mere form of hysteria from which the living that really know the truth never suffer because they do not fear life or death as we do and can afford to be calm and silent. The frailest flower that blooms knows that it will rise from the dead in the next season's sun, breathe, feel again the dew and rain. Therefore these little ones make no such tragedy as we do of death.

  • It's a useful rule in Anglo-American communications that the English should double, and the Americans halve, the number of words they would normally employ.

  • However great one's gift of language may be, there is always something that one cannot tell.

  • He produced the impression of keeping copies of everything he said ...

  • It's a queer world. Remain silent and others suspect that you are ignorant; talk and you remove all doubt of it.

  • Words are sometimes sensitive instruments of precision with which delicate operations may be performed and swift, elusive truths may be touched; often they are clumsy tools with which we grope in the dark toward truths more inaccessible but no less significant.

  • It wasn't that I was stupid ... It was just that there didn't seem to be a lot to say that someone wasn't already saying.

  • Speech was present. Everywhere. Stones could speak. Rivers spoke. Sand had words. The ocean lapped the shore and told its secrets. Speech was in everything.

  • 'Tis an admirable thing to see how some people will labour to find out terms that may obscure a plain sense, like a gentleman I knew, who would never say 'the weather grew cold,' but that 'winter begins to salute us.' I have no patience for such coxcombs ...

    • Dorothy Osborne,
    • 1653, in G.C. Moore Smith, Letters of Dorothy Osborne to William Temple ()
  • [When her daughter suggested the President refer in his conversation with foreign dignitaries about lawn care to 'fertilizer' instead of to 'manure':] But remember, it took me almost thirty years to get him to call it manure.

    • Bess Truman,
    • in Evelyn Oppenheimer, The Articulate Woman ()
  • It ['dreamy'] was an adjective current at the time, and Lou used it as though she was afraid it would go out of style or vanish from the vocabulary before she had exhausted its possibilities.

  • Whether we want to or not, the minute we open our mouths we give clues about where we grew up, about our gender, about our ethnicity, about our social class, even about our sexual orientation. The voice has evolved as the medium of communication for human beings, but it communicates far more than words: we are all adept at reading between the lines when people speak.

  • Sinden spoke the rough, slurring speech of the Sussex man, with great broad vowels like pools in which the consonants drowned.

  • She has an awe of words. They mean so much to her that her lips do not unlock save for truth or kindliness or beauty or wisdom.

    • Annie Fields,
    • 1863, in M.A. DeWolfe Howe, Memories of a Hostess: A Chronicle of Eminent Friendships ()
  • Humans abhor a vacuum. The immediate filling of a vacuum is one of the basic functions of speech. Meaningless conversations are no less important in our lives than meaningful ones.

    • Lidia Ginzburg,
    • "The Siege of Leningrad," in Soviet Women Writing ()
  • Ada always sounded excited when she spoke, as if speech was a new art she had just mastered and was showing off.

  • There is no weapon in the end as difficult to overcome as the tongue of an enemy.

  • ... language was with him neither a science, an art, nor an acccomplishment, but a mere vehicle for thought — the garb, always chosen as simplest and fittest, in which his ideas were clothed. His conversation was never wearisome, since he only spoke when he had something to say; and having said it, in the most concise and appropriate manner that suggested itself at the time, he was silent ...

  • ... does one ever say the same thing in the same way to two different people?

  • His speech flows not from vanity or lust of praise, but from sheer necessity; — the reservoir is full, and runs over.

  • He was talking with the inspired air of the man who fears silence and a full stop.

  • Every one has his or her style of conversation, just as all authors have their own peculiar style of writing. Mrs. Baxter, for example, delighted in iteration; she had a habit of taking a particular word and working it to death.

  • He's never at a loss for a word, though he very seldom says anything worth hearing.

  • Being civilized means that one keeps one's words unrelated to one's thoughts, when necessary.

  • Timidity cut the flow of his phrases. He got on with his story like an automobile that is always stalling. One wanted to come to his rescue by finishing his sentences for him.

    • Georgette Leblanc,
    • in Janet Flanner, trans., Souvenirs: My Life With Maeterlinck ()
  • Often beauty grows dull or common when speech breaks the mask ...

  • He had a habit ... of making a narrow remark which, like a plumber's snake, could work its way through the ear down the throat, halfway to my heart.

  • ... Audrey ... strangled her every word. I thought it was a speech defect. It was, I found out later, something called Locust Valley Lockjaw ... I have heard it countless times since, and have always found behind it someone who called her mother 'Mummy' and grew up with good furniture.

  • ... she was delivering a household harangue, which, in its style, imitated very closely some of our distinguished poets, being, like their rhymes, diffusive and digressive, a bundle of words concealing the idea, if any there were, as effectually as the covering of the cocoa-nut conceals the kernel.

  • ... she was ... never known to finish a sentence. She always got lost in the thickets of secondary thoughts that sprang up round her simple remarks ...

  • Down through the years certain fads of slang had come and gone, and their vestiges could be found in Janie's and Mabel's conversation, like mastodon bones in a swamp.

  • Oh, I love talking with him! He puts all these couches to lie down on in his sentences.

  • Generally, the more words you use to say something, the less power those words have.

    • Cat Thompson,
    • "The Power of Language" Experience Life ()
  • In daily conversation, we speak the majority of our words from habit, convenience and social obligation rather than from clear intent.

    • Cat Thompson,
    • "The Power of Language" Experience Life ()
  • He was fond of enveloping his meaning in shadowy analogies, which, like the moon, often led astray, with a beautiful but imperfect and illusive light.

  • Many a pair of curious ears had been lured by that well-timed pause.

  • Keep skid chains on your tongue. Say less than you think. Cultivate a pleasant voice. How you say it is often more important than what you say.

  • Speech is the mark of humanity. It is the normal terminus of thought.

  • [When asked by Helen Hayes if Queen Victoria had a German accent:] Ach, no! She het no more eggzent den you or me!

  • Previously, people said 'you know?' and 'know what I'm saying?' at the end of every sentence. Now they don't bother with the words and just use the question marks, to save time. Everything ends up becoming a question? I'm talking about statements? It's getting quite annoying?

  • [On her mother-in-law:] Hortense is the only woman I know who pronounces the word 'egg' with three syllables.

  • Why is it that when anything goes without saying, it never does?

  • Why is it that the person who needs no introduction usually gets the longest one?

  • ... the first duty of a lecturer — to hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever.

  • ... there are two ways of speaking an audience will always like: one is, to tell them what they don't understand; and the other is, to tell them what they're used to.

  • Rhetoric never won a revolution yet.

  • Occasionally, once a speaker is on his feet, it is difficult to get him to sit down. ... If and when he returns to earth, he notices half of the room is paging the other half and a few are playing with the melted candles.

  • I have never knowingly made a non-controversial speech in my life.

  • ... the ruder lecturers are, and the louder their voices, the more converts they make to their opinions.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • "The Murder of Madame Mollard" (1930), Pavements at Anderby ()
  • A watch is the most essential part of a lecture.

    • Willa Cather,
    • speech (1926), in L. Brent Bohlke, ed., Willa Cather in Person ()
  • An orator is the worst person to tell a plain fact ...

  • [On the radio:] ... a discovery that makes it possible for a man to deliver a speech and not only bore those nearby, but others hundreds of miles away.

  • Audiences are always better pleased with a smart retort, some joke or epigram, than with any amount of reasoning.

  • Forensics is eloquence and reduction.

  • Fateful moments tend to evoke grandeur of speech, especially in French.

  • Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.


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  • Be brief. The mind cannot accept what the seat cannot endure.

  • Say what you will in two / Words and get through. / Long, frilly / Palaver is silly.

  • The most fundamental requirement in constructing a persuasive message is to select arguments that are consistent with the beliefs and values of the audience.

  • Never drink more than one cocktail before giving a talk. True, the drinks may relax you, but they may also slur your speech and blur your memory, making you wonder who are all those people out there and why are they staring at you?

  • ... it makes a great difference to a speaker whether he has something to say, or has to say something.

  • Invitations to speak upon public occasions are among my most grievous embarrassments. Why is it inferred that one is or can be a public speaker because she has written a book? Writing is a very private business. I do not know any other occupation which requires so much privacy unless it is a life of prayer or a life of crime.

  • The brain will absorb only what the bottom can endure.

  • He then entered upon a speech, which, for intricacy of design and uselessness of purpose, might have vied with the far-famed labyrinth of Crete.

  • [To husband Hubert H. Humphrey:] Hubert, a speech does not need to be eternal to be immortal.

  • I think speeches and fruit should always be fresh.

    • Nikki Giovanni,
    • "In Sympathy With Another Motherless Child," Sacred Cows ... And Other Edibles ()
  • A speech is poetry: cadence, rhythm, imagery, sweep! A speech reminds us that words, like children, have the power to make dance the dullest beanbag of a heart.

  • The best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance.

  • [On Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley:] His press conferences were hard to follow. He didn't necessarily exit the same sentences he entered.

  • If what you have to say is important and you want people to remember it, then keep it short and sweet.