November 15, 2017 fm

The First Pattern In Your Life

Arthur Waters is a cool dude. He could perfectly be part of the cast of “The Big Lebowski”. His light white hair combed back and held together with a rubber band, he looks like Woodstock has never ended. Arthur loves his red wine, his self-made cigarettes and profound conversations going along with them. In his four-marriages-shaken life he was an assistant literature prof, a lawyer, and many more things he would never tell you. But, above all, Arthur is my Toastmasters buddy, lector of my two books in English language and my dear friend.

In our public speaking club Arthur is the torch of rhetorical wisdom. I love it when he lightens up our minds with mixes of alliteration, epithet and synecdoche. At a retreat of our club in the Pyrenees Mountains, Arthur gave a workshop on rhetorical devices. Another highlight of depth.

In that workshop Arthur asked us an intriguing question: What is the first pattern you learned in life?


With a victorious grin that reminded me of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Arthur answered his own hypophorical question: The face of your mother.

The face of our mother is the first pattern we learn as humans. Our brain is the best-known pattern processing machine in the universe. The renowned brain researcher Mark Mattson concludes that, [superior] pattern processing is the fundamental basis of most, if not all, unique features of the human brain including intelligence, language, imagination, invention, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts and gods.

Fact is: our brain loves patterns. Our brain remembers patterns. And most rhetorical devices are based on … patterns.

Repetition, for instance, is a dominant pattern in the world of rhetorical devices: Alliteration, anaphora, chiasmus, epizeuxis, epistrophe – all of them are based on repetition.

Contrast is another pattern and the reason for this article. I’m a great fan of oxymoron. An oxymoron combines contradictory terms. In the sea of content, an oxymoron sticks out.

  • Happily divorced
  • Pleasantly arrogant
  • Kind dictator
  • Black milk
  • Cool nerd
  • Militant pacifist
  • Peaceful soldier
  • Visible spy
  • Known secret
  • Friendly bully
  • Poor riches
  • Deep height
  • Meaningful nonsense
  • Dark star
  • Funny funeral
  • Dull excitement
  • Rotten freshness
  • Healthy fast food
  • Fake authenticity
  • Righteous thief

Le list could go on and on.

To spice it up, you can also play with clichés and contradict common opinions about nationalities, professions or personalities. This has a welcome side effect: it makes your audience laugh.

  • Humorous Germans
  • Reserved Italians
  • Honest banker
  • Likeable lawyer
  • Empathetic Trump
  • Sexy Merkel

An oxymoron lets your brain go wild, even, or especially, if it’s the sexy Angela. Use this one and other rhetorical devices in your talks. Most of them are based on patterns. Your audience will love them just like the love the face of their mother.


Photo by bellefoto.ro

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