Okay, so here’s your problem: one day your teacher is telling you all about persuasive techniques, and one of them is ‘repetition’, and, from what she’s saying, you gather that it’s a good thing to repeat important phrases and ideas because it makes them stick in your listener’s head; but the next day, you’re getting your work back and – what the- ? – it’s covered in her red ink annotations declaring that you’re repeating yourself too much. What gives?
This gives: there is good repetition and bad repetition.
Bad repetition is repetition of ideas because you have run out of things to say, or repetition of words or phrases because your vocabulary is failing you. We’ve all been there.
Good repetition is the conscious use of rhetorical devices that add structure, impact and weight to your writing. There are lots of these devices: calling them all ‘repetition’ probably doesn’t help. Maybe you’ve got (or had) one of those teachers who don’t like to use too much terminology in class. But you can’t blame her (or him) – it’s your education. That’s why you’ve taken the step of consulting Andy’s Writing Tips to learn more for yourself. For this I salute you.
This week’s book, Parting Shots, contains many examples of one of the most common, and useful, rhetorical devices involving repetition: anaphora.
Here is Richard Nordquist’s definition: ‘the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. By building toward a climax, anaphora can create a strong emotional effect.’
In the example from Parting Shots, the British ambassador to the USA during the Carter administration, Peter Jay, is elaborating his definitions of the good Europe and the bad Europe – his way of explaining European tendencies, especially in its attitude to the United States, that Jay thinks should be encouraged or discouraged. Every sentence starts with the phrase ‘It is the Europe of’… So what is the ‘good Europe’?
The good Europe is easily recognised. It is the Europe of Monnet, a monument to the internationalist ideal and, so it was intended, an antidote to the specific evil of the old nationalisms of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, etc. It is the Europe of free internal industrial trade, open frontiers and mobility of people and capital. It is the Europe which promptly embraces all democratic nations who wish to join…
(Peter Jay 1979)
His description about the bad Europe is much longer – we won’t quote all of it – and comes to a climax in the last sentence, signalled by phrase ‘above all and embracing all’:
It is the Europe of vulgar anti-Americanism and elite anti-Carterism, that has neither the inclination nor the aptitude to understand contemporary America and that smugly delights in every American mistake, real or imagined. Above all and embracing all, it is the Europe that cares more about the dash it cuts than the crash it causes…
There is anaphora for you then. You can see how the device allows Jay to structure his his ideas – essentially a list – into an affecting and memorable oration (what feels like an oration, anyway, though it is written down). Definately ‘good repetition’, then.
Jay notes, ‘a similar examination of the good and bad faces of America could be made’, which sounds like a challenge to me.