Classical Rhetoric in Medicine: Epizeuxis

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

Sir Winston Churchill, 1954

No one can read the writings or speeches of Churchill and not admire his mastery of classic rhetorical terms. Churchill, who was trained in rhetoric in school, used such memorable figures throughout his adult life. For example, his use of oxymoron during a speech he gave in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946 has become legendary:

."From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

It is certainly easier to learn and use rhetorical terms in one's writing than in one's speeches; in fact, outside of Churchill the only speech I can recall that used rhetoric to effectively persuade the audience was made by Tim Matheson in the movie Animal House. It is a lot easier to argue on paper than with the the tongue (metonymy: reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes), since one can edit the written word at one's leisure, without an audience buzzing impatiently (onomatopoeia: using or inventing a word whose sound imitates that which it names).

Epizeuxis: repetition of words with no others between, for vehemence or emphasis.

During a discussion with one of my patients last week she used a phrase that not only reminded me of Churchill's humorous example of epizeuxis as he voiced his opinion on "jawing-jawing" about war, but afforded me my own chance to cough up the rhetorical device. The scenario unfolds as follows:

The C.O.: Mrs. [deleted], I looked at your chest x-ray and there is no evidence of any tumor in your lungs. It's been one year since you were diagnosed, eight months since your last chemotherapy treatment and your cancer is still gone.

Patient: It's gone, yes, but is it gone-gone, or just gone?

The C.O.: Right now it's gone, but remember: it doesn't have to be gone-gone in order for you to live-live.

[Editor's Note: this is the first of a continuing series. We hope-hope.]


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You know, of course, Churchhill wrote all his speeches and read them.

I thought Bill Murray's speech in Stripes was pretty good. There is the speech, I think, in King Lear.

My favorite line from Animal House is:

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl harbor?"

By PhysioProf (not verified) on 16 Oct 2006 #permalink