3 Ways You Can Write Like Cicero (And JFK, and Ben Franklin, and Yoda)

We can learn a thing or two from the ancient Romans. How to build the perfect stone arch, for example, or how to throw an incredible dinner party. 

Writers looking to persuade an audience should take a page from the book of one Marcus Tullius Cicero, an ancient politician famous for his speeches and mastery of rhetoric. And with election season upon us, you will almost certainly hear the same strategies echoed today.

Here are 3 Ciceronian techniques that can help add oomph to clear, concise language:

1. Anadiplosis: Yes, it sounds a little like a disease. But this trick can help you more effectively link successive ideas to make a point. Anadiplosis is the repetition of the last word of the previous clause, and looks like this:

“Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to anger. Anger leads to suffering.”
-Yoda, the wise mentor in Star Wars

It also looks like this entire DirecTV commercial. this entire DirecTV commercial

2. Chiasmus: This term means “X” and describes an A-B-B-A pattern. It helps you emphasize a contrast, like this:

“It’s not the men in my life that count: It’s the life in my men.”
-Mae West

Or, in more presidential terms:

“Ask not what your country can do for you— ask what you can do for your country.”
-President John F. Kennedy

(It’s also common in the Bible.)

3. Tricolon: Ancient speakers knew there was something almost magical about the number 3, and tricolon is simply a set of 3 parallel words or phrases. (How weird does this sound: “Location, Location.” You just need that third one!)

Tricolon is one of President Obama’s favorites—consider this snippet from his 2008 victory speech:

“If there is anyone out there [1] who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; [2] who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; [3] who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
-President Obama

When the third item serves as a climax or exclamation point, it’s called tricolon crescens (crescens means “increasing”):

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
-Benjamin Franklin

So on that note, honorary bonus point to the first one who spots one of these in a Donald Trump speech.

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