Chapter III. Efficiency Through Emphasis And Subordination
In a word, the principle of emphasis .... is followed best, not by remembering particular rules, but by being full of a particular feeling. - C. S. Baldwin, Writing and Speaking.
The gun that scatters too much does not bag the birds. The same principle applies to speech. The speaker that fires his force and emphasis at random into a sentence will not get results. Not every word is of special importance - therefore only certain words demand emphasis.
You say MassaCHUsetts and MinneAPolis, you do not emphasize each syllable alike, but hit the accented syllable with force and hurry over the unimportant ones. Now why do you not apply this principle in speaking a sentence? To some extent you do, in ordinary speech; but do you in public discourse? It is there that monotony caused by lack of emphasis is so painfully apparent.
So far as emphasis is concerned, you may consider the average sentence as just one big word, with the important word as the accented syllable. Note the following:
"Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice."
You might as well say MASSA-CHU-SETTS, em-phasizing every syllable equally, as to lay equal stress on each word in the foregoing sentences.
Speak it aloud and see. Of course you will want to emphasize destiny, for it is the principal idea in your declaration, and you will put some emphasis on not, else your hearers may think you are affirming that destiny is a matter of chance. By all means you must emphasize chance, for it is one of the two big ideas in the statement.
Another reason why chance takes emphasis is that it is contrasted with choice in the next sentence. Obviously, the author has contrasted these ideas purposely, so that they might be more emphatic, and here we see that contrast is one of the very first devices to gain emphasis.
As a public speaker you can assist this emphasis of contrast with your voice. If you say, "My horse is not black," what color immediately comes into mind? White, naturally, for that is the opposite of black. If you wish to bring out the thought that destiny is a matter of choice, you can do so more effectively by first saying that "DESTINY is NOT a matter of CHANCE." Is not the color of the horse impressed upon us more emphatically when you say, "My horse is NOT BLACK. He is WHITE" than it would be by hearing you assert merely that your horse is white?
In the second sentence of the statement there is only one important word - choice. It is the one word that positively defines the quality of the subject being discussed, and the author of those lines desired to bring it out emphatically, as he has shown by contrasting it with another idea. These lines, then, would read like this:
"DESTINY is NOT a matter of CHANCE. It is a matter of CHOICE." Now read this over, striking the words in capitals with a great deal of force.
In almost every sentence there are a few MOUNTAIN PEAK WORDS that represent the big, important ideas. When you pick up the evening paper you can tell at a glance which are the important news articles. Thanks to the editor, he does not tell about a "hold up" in Hong Kong in the same sized type as he uses to report the death of five firemen in your home city. Size of type is his device to show emphasis in bold relief. He brings out sometimes even in red headlines the striking news of the day.
It would be a boon to speech-making if speakers would conserve the attention of their audiences in the same way and emphasize only the words representing the important ideas. The average speaker will deliver the foregoing line on destiny with about the same amount of emphasis on each word. Instead of saying, "It is a matter of CHOICE," he will deliver it, "It is a matter of choice," or "IT IS A MATTER OF CHOICE" - both equally bad.
Charles Dana, the famous editor of The New York Sun, told one of his reporters that if he went up the street and saw a dog bite a man, to pay no attention to it. The Sun could not afford to waste the time and attention of its readers on such unimportant happenings. "But," said Mr. Dana, "if you see a man bite a dog, hurry back to the office and write the story." Of course that is news; that is unusual.
Now the speaker who says "IT IS A MATTER OF CHOICE" is putting too much emphasis upon things that are of no more importance to metropolitan readers than a dog bite, and when he fails to emphasize "choice" he is like the reporter who "passes up" the man's biting a dog. The ideal speaker makes his big words stand out like mountain peaks; his unimportant words are submerged like stream-beds. His big thoughts stand like huge oaks; his ideas of no especial value are merely like the grass around the tree.
From all this we may deduce this important principle: EMPHASIS is a matter of CONTRAST and COMPARISON.
Recently the New York American featured an editorial by Arthur Brisbane. Note the following, printed in the same type as given here.
We do not know what the President THOUGHT when he got that message, or what the elephant thinks when he sees the moose, but we do know what the President DID.
The words THOUGHT and DID immediately catch the reader's attention because they are different from the others, not especially because they are larger. If all the rest of the words in this sentence were made ten times as large as they are, and DID and THOUGHT were kept at their present size, they would still be emphatic, because different.
Take the following from Robert Chambers' novel, "The Business of life." The words you, had, would, are all emphatic, because they have been made different.
He looked at her in angry astonishment. "Well, what do you call it if it isn't cowardice - to slink off and many a defenseless girl like that!"
"Did you expect me to give you a chance to destroy me and poison Jacqueline's mind? If I had been guilty of the thing with which you charge me, what I have done would have been cowardly. Otherwise, it is justified."