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The Rhetoric of Repetition

Author: Clifford Martis

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Does repetition have any merit? People generally look upon repetition as boring, waste of time and disgusting. They blame the person repeating things as someone who does not have fresh ideas. But if we think deeply we can find that repletion has a very useful and honorable place In literature, public speaking, music and many other fields. As children we learn many things and particularly multiplication tables. This shows that matter repeated in a proper method has better chance of getting registered on our minds. Thus repetition has the merit of being a method of learning.

Poetry uses repetition a good deal. Consider Coleridge’s famous line from “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”

Water, water everywhere not a drop to drink

The poet could have said, ‘lots of water’ or plenty of water. But there is no poetry in that the word water repeated gives the effect of alliteration and chimes with the similar sound produced by water everywhere. Have a look at two friends Mahesh and Karthik who met after a long interval. Mahesh had become a poet and Karthik had become a mathematician. Karthik requested Mahesh to recite his latest poem. Mahesh said he had written a new poem titled “Steps to Freedom” He cleared his throat and began

“One step, another step, a third step.

Karthik cut him short and said “Why don’t you say ‘Three steps?’ “Oh you don’t see the point Karthik. The repetition of the word step has poetic effect. In many poems the poets use such repetitions. We are not sure whether Karthik understood the point fully.

Repetition is music is familiar, isn’t it? We have what is known as the refrain or chorus. It is played or sung after every verse or stanza. Remember the old song, “In the shoemaker’s shop this refrain would never stop, as he tapped away, working all the day……” In modern songs and musical scores also we have the repetitive refrain.

In public speaking repetition provides the effect of eloquence. It embellishes the . But the style of repetition is slightly different. The words or set of words are not repeated in full. Consider a public speaker who wishes to make a strong plea for some social or religious reform. He may put eloquence in his speech in the following manner.

I have not come here to preach
I have not come here to sermonize
I have not come here to lecture,
Ladies and gentlemen
I have come here to plead
I have come here to solicit
I have come here to appeal

Inept speakers also repeat their words and ideas but their repetition does not produce rhetoric. It is only an escape route when they have no new points / ideas to place before the audience.

What about religion? Most prayers in many religions are repeated. Catholic people have what is known as the Rosary. It is a chain consisting of 50 beads divided into 5 beads of ten each. Every bead stands for the prayer ‘Hail Mary……….” So one who prays the rosary prays the prayer ‘Hail Mary’ at least 50 times.

Even in ordinary conversation people do repeat (mostly the last few words). Let us take an example. A person tells another one, “Remember, if you try t do any such thing I won’t keep quiet………..I won’t keep quiet.

Once when I was a student in High School I gave an answer to a very deep question put by the teacher. The gentleman was so deeply impressed that he repeated my sentence (my answer) several times. His purpose was to show his admiration for the way I had learnt the very difficult matter (Let me tell you the truth. I had not learnt the answer. I found it in some book in a casual way)

Coming down to mundane things consider how the hawkers and pavement dwellers repeat their cries. Dus rupya, dus rupa, dekhe ka daam nahin, sochne ka kaam nahin” They go on repeating the series upto a degree of frenzy. You buy something and pay cash. During this also he continues his chant stopping only for a split second to tell you, “No madam the colour won’t run” Dus rupya dus rupya……………

Mendicants and alms seekers also repeat their appeals. Sometimes you are trying to reach your purse. He can see that you are going to give something. But his appeal continues “Apppa, swamee , I have not eaten for three days…………… “

What about the TV and the commercials? How many times are we made to see the tonic or the toothpaste or (pardon me) the sanitary items. I was wondering why they show the ads so many times and so much in continuous series. We are told that it is a new technique in visual communication. Recently we see an actor or actress repeating a certain quick move of the face or some other part of the body three times. ,

The most interesting story about the effect of repetition is what Hitler seems to have said ‘You repeat a lie 100 times and it will become the truth’


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