We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Now I know that Remembrance Day has been and gone for this year, but I have been thinking about Churchill’s words since seeing a BBC4 programme about great speeches, hosted by Simon Armitage. We’d recorded it, so I’m sorry, I don’t know when exactly it was broadcast.
In the programme Armitage spoke to an expert in giving presentations. He was talking about the power of simple words. He made the point that had Churchill said something like ‘there may be skirmishes in coastal regions’ rather than ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ the speech would lose 90% of its power.
And in Melvyn Bragg’s book, The Adventure of English, he also uses this speech to illustrate how words from Old English still make up the core of our language. In fact only one word from the quote above does not come from Old English – and that word is ‘surrender’ which, ironically enough, comes to us from the French.
While the written word is of course quite different to the spoken word, there’s much to think about here for writers. Using simple, old English words makes text not only easier to read, but also can make it far more powerful. Right now I’m re-reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca which is a wonderful example of simple words used elegantly and perfectly.
So the next time I fret that I can’t think of a clever word, I’ll stop, take a deep breath, and find a nice simple one to use instead.
bridget whelan said:
There’s another Churchill phrase that always gives me pause for thought (not sure if it is from the same speech but it must have been sometime around then) and that is: The news from France is bad. You can’t get simpler than that…and the very fact that he doesn’t try to dress it up with multi-syllable words gives it a power and an honesty. Of course in our own day simple is still often best…remember: ” Yes, we can?”
Great post, Kath, it’s certainly given me food for thought. There is a power and strength in simple words, isn’t there? And ooh, Rebecca.. what a fabulous I-must-read-it-again-if-I-ever-have-time book that is!
Rena George said:
Daphne du Maurier’s wonderful 1938 novel, Rebecca, is the book that first inspired me to write.
She always said it was a study in jealousy, which, of course, it is, but it’s so much more.
It has romance, intrigue, murder and mystery, all centered around the magnificent Manderley. …And then, it has Cornwall! I rest my case.
Enjoy your re-reading of Rebecca, Kath.
I’m off to find my well-thumbed copy again. Rx
Yes, it has everything, and I am loving it as much this time as when I first read it in my teens.
Interesting post, Kath – Rebecca is one of my all time favourite books!
David Kendrick said:
Martin Luther King was also a master of powerful speeches. Rebecca is a fab book. One of my favourites for describing setting as a character.
The Speeches programme drew heavily on King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – not surprisingly! Armitage rated it has his all-time favourite, and talked about the power of repetition of that catch-phrase.
Keith Havers said:
I love learning about the origin of words. Thanks for the interesting post, Kath.