The Art of Public Speaking


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Elocution is the art of effective public speaking, with particular attention to the clear, distinct, and socially acceptable pronunciation of words. Adjective: elocutionary.

In classical rhetoric, delivery (or actio) and style (or elocutio) were considered separate divisions of the traditional rhetorical process. See: rhetorical canons.

Etymology: From the Latin, "utterance, expression"

Pronunciation: e-leh-KYU-shen

Also Known As: elocutio, style

Examples and Observations

  • "The word elocution means something quite different to us from what it meant to the classical rhetorician. We associate the word with the act of speaking (hence, the elocution contest)... But for the classical rhetorician, elocutio meant 'style.' ...
    "All rhetorical considerations of style involved some discussion of choice of words, usually under such headings as correctness, purity..., simplicity, clearness, appropriateness, ornateness.
    "Another subject of consideration was the composition or arrangement of words in phrases or clauses (or, to use the rhetorical term, periods). Involved here were discussions of correct syntax or collocation of words; patterns of sentences (e.g. parallelism, antithesis); proper use of conjunctions and other correlating devices both within the sentence and between sentences...
    "A great deal of attention was paid, of course, to tropes and figures."
    (Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford University. Press, 1999)​
  • The Elocutionary Movement
    "Various factors contributed to heightened interest in the study of elocution in both the 18th and 19th centuries. Numerous scholars recognized that traditional students interested in the ministry or the bar were lacking effective speaking skills, and attempts were made to overcome these deficiencies. Beginning in England and continuing in the United States, elocution became the main focus of rhetoric during this time. . . .
    "In studying elocution, students were primarily concerned with four things: bodily gestures, voice management, pronunciation, and vocal production (the actual formation of the sounds of speech)." (Brenda Gabioud Brown, "Elocution." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication From Ancient Times to the Information Age, ed. by Theresa Enos. Taylor & Francis, 1996)
  • The Principal Parts of Elocution
    Elocution (elocutio) . . . is the proper exposition of the appropriate words (idonea verba) and thoughts (idoneae sententiae) suitable to the things invented and arranged (res inventae et dispositae).
    "Its principal parts are elegance, dignity, and composition . . .. Elegance is sensed most frequently in words and thoughts; dignity in the brilliance of the figures of words and thoughts . . .; and composition in the joining of words, in the period, and in the rhythm." (Giambattista Vico, The Art of Rhetoric (Institutiones Oratoriae), 1711-1741, trans. G. A. Pinton and A. W. Shippee, 1996)
    • The clear enunciation of separate words and their elements.
    • The just expression of the sense of words in connected discourse.
    • Appropriate gesture, comprehending under this head the attitude, motions, and aspect of countenance most suitable to lend animation and force to speech."
  • The Requisites of a Good Delivery
    "Elocution is the art of delivering written or spoken language in the way best calculated to express the sense, beauty, or force of the words employed by the speaker.
    "The requisites of a good delivery are:(Alexander Kennedy Isbister, Outlines of Elocution and Correct Reading, 1870)
  • Lord Chesterfield on Becoming a Fine Speaker
    "The vulgar look upon a man, who is reckoned a fine speaker, as a phenomenon, a supernatural being, and endowed with some peculiar gift of Heaven; they stare at him, if he walks in the park, and cry, that is he. You will, I am sure, view him in a juster light, and nulla formidine [without apprehension]. You will consider him only as a man of good sense, who adorns common thoughts with the graces of elocution, and the elegance of style. The miracle will then cease; and you will be convinced, that with the same application, and attention to the same objects, you may most certainly equal, and perhaps surpass, this prodigy." (Philip Stanhope, letter to his son, February 15, 1754)
  • Teachers of Elocution
    "If there is a word more repellent than all others to an actor, or to the descendant of actors, it is the word elocution. It is saying a good deal, but, probably, outside of patent medicines, there is no humbug so great as characterizes nine tenths of elocution teaching. Men and women utterly incapable of speaking one sentence naturally undertake to make public speakers. What is the result? Pulpit, bar, rostrum, and stage teem with speakers that mouth, orate, rant, chant, and intone, but are never natural. It is a grievous evil. That elocution can be taught I have no doubt, but I know that most teachers are to be shunned as you would shun the plague."
    (American journalist and actress Kate Field, quoted by Alfred Ayres in Acting and Actors, Elocution and Elocutionists: A Book About Theater Folk and Theater Art, 1903)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "The Art of Public Speaking." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). The Art of Public Speaking. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "The Art of Public Speaking." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).