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I have prepared a brief language lesson using the Gettysburg Address to prove that rhythm in written language determines whether writing will stand the test of time.

First, the lesson….

Dos for Communicating Clearly

  •  Use words accurately
  • Choose words that capture ideas most precisely, and define accurately what you mean
  • Use short, sharp, familiar words (takes longer to prepare, but worth it to your listeners!)
  • Choose concrete words (details) to be clearer, more interesting, and easier to remember than abstract (easier to misinterpret)
  • Throw out unnecessary words (avoid flabby phrases!)

 Dos for Communicating Vividly

  • Concrete Words (call up mental impressions of sights, sounds, touch, smell, and taste) pull audience irresistibly into speech
  • Imagery – create word pictures with concrete words,
    • similes  – compare things that are essentially different but have something in common (use like or as)
    • metaphors – similar to similes but without using like or as
  • Rhythm – combination of sounds (almost musical)

       Basic Stylistic Devices to Create Rhythm

  1. Parallelism – pair or series of related words, phrases
  2. Repetition – using same word/sets at beginning or end of clauses
  3. Alliteration – repeat initial consonants
  4. Antithesis – placing contrasting ideas side by side

Now, the application…

I believe the beauty of the Gettysburg Address is in its vivid, rhythmic language; to help my students understand the difference between vividness and clarity, I rewrote a portion. To fully appreciate the difference between Lincoln’s version and my attempt to show the difference when stripped of much of its melodic sound, please read both versions aloud.

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (Nov. 19, 1863)


“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Revised on Nov. 19, 2006 by Joyce Elferdink (sorry, Mr. Lincoln!)

.…We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for the soldiers who were killed here. It is certainly appropriate that we do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, consecrate, or hallow this ground. The brave men who struggled here did it better than we could. The world will quickly forget our statements, but it can never forget the fighting that occurred here.

It is for those of us still alive to commit to finish the work begun by the deceased. We can honor their sacrifice—and prove that they did not die needlessly—by our devotion to greater freedom and democracy for all Americans.

Which version do you prefer? Do you think my version will be read 148 years from now?

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