Word Hero : A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever
Yes, it's true: you can learn how to be a verbal wizard!
Ever hear someone utter an unforgettable phrase and feel yourself reacting with with...well, awe? Ever read a great quote and think I could never come up with anything that clever?
Daunting as it may seem, there's nothing mystical about witcraft. Crafting memorable lines doesn't require DNA-encoded brilliance. What it does require is some knowledge of the tricks and techniques that make words stick.
In Word Hero, Jay Heinrichs rescues the how-to of verbal artistry from cobwebbed textbooks and makes it entirely fresh - even a little mischievous. Fear not: on offer here are not dry, abstract ideas couched in academic jargon. Rather, Heinrichs takes you on an amusing - and amazingly helpful - tour of the mechanisms that make powerful language work. You'll learn how to slyly plant your words in people's heads and draw indelible verbal pictures by employing such tools as "crashing symbols," "rapid repeaters," "Russian Dolls" and even the powers of Mr. Potato Head.
With those tools and others tucked in your utility belt, you might not immediately achieve "wordsmith immortality" but you will become a better speaker, writer, and raconteur...and long after people have forgotten everything else, they'll remember your priceless lines.
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Three Rivers Press
October 04, 2011
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Excerpt from Word Hero by Jay Heinrichs
The Square Root of Rainbows Formulas for Memorability
My first real lesson in what I call "witcraft" came off a loading dock in Philadelphia. I was sixteen and just starting my first summer job at a department store. My assigned mentor, Al, was a man of the world at least two years my senior. He led me onto a semitrailer and pulled a thousand-dollar dress from a hanging rack.
Al ripped the fabric down the middle, recorded the dress as damaged, and turned significantly to me. "With responsibility," he said, "comes great power."
I had heard the old chestnut about power and responsibility, but it had never occurred to me that a cliche could be corrupted so deliciously. From that day on, I hung on to everything the guy said.
In retrospect, he wasn't all that witty, and his bon mot certainly wasn't worth a designer gown. Needless to say, Al proved to be a dubious moral guide; next day he taught me how to surf the roof of a moving delivery van. But that summer he became my first living Word Hero.
In the years since, I've studied witcraft as an effective way to change people's emotions, their minds, and their willingness to act. I learned how to get people's attention and make a good impression, even better than the one Al made on me. I wrote a book, Thank You for Arguing, and went on to coach rhetoric, the art of persuasion, with students, lawyers, corporate execs, and aerospace engineers. I read all the ancient and modern rhetorical wisdom I could find and have employed the advice and help of hundreds of experts.
But Al was the first to teach me the essence of word heroism: with a very little wit comes great power.
THE SHAPE AND FORM OF HEROISM
Since then I've had some terrific mentors. The great Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero--lowborn, stubby, turnip-nosed Cicero--stood on words and led the Roman republic. He and other rhetoricians through history, from Joan of Arc to Barack Obama, grasped the secrets of image crafting through witcraft. They set their words in stone, sometimes literally. They were Word Heroes. I'd like to help make you, too, into a Word Hero; maybe not on the order of a Shakespeare or Churchill, but someone who holds a share of immortality.
Word heroism takes very few words--no more than a dozen or so. Few of us remember Franklin Roosevelt's speeches, but many of us remember the memorable, the characteristic parts, that made FDR FDR. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "This is a day that will live in infamy."
To create memorable words yourself, you simply need to discover a set of techniques,--forty-three in all--that have been used by masters from Winston Churchill to Jimmy Kimmel. These tools will help you focus on the few words that count the most in a conversation, argument, important e‑mail, blog post, thank-you letter, college paper, or presentation.
This book does far more than merely list the techniques, though. Consider it a course in self-taught heroism, and use it to develop your own unforgettability. From the next chapter on, you will progress through the stages of phrase-making mastery, beginning with Word Apprentice and working up to Word Hero, that rarified state where your witcraft compels people to remember your name. By the time you achieve word heroism, you will have gained:
* Confidence in your ability to write and speak
* Knowledge of what makes a memorable expression memorable
* Prowess in producing the right words in just the right order for maximum effect
* Skill in the techniques used (consciously or instinctively) by the most unforgettable personalities in history and pop culture
You'll project a strong, articulate personality, the kind people like and respect. But we're talking about more than image polishing. We're talking about a lasting image, one that lingers after you leave the room--or this mortal coil, for that matter. The right words, arranged perfectly, leave a lasting impression in an audience's brain. And what are the techniques to create this magic? Figures of speech.
Word sounds and rhythms, puns and wordplay qualify as figures--the term rhetoricians give words in unusual context or order.
You know the expression "That's just a figure of speech." Personally, I object to the "just." Figures can do for speech what architectural forms do for a cityscape, or the female human form does to your average randy male. A figure in the physical world composes the shape or form of something; look at the Washington Monument on a foggy day and you'll make out the figure of a column. Less monumentally, we traditionally call a woman's shape or form her figure. A figure of speech works the same way, usually without the obsession over phallic architecture and weight loss. This rhetorical figure constitutes the shape or form of words in a sentence.
Figures get an audience's attention because they stand out from the rest of language. Take this head-snapping hyperbole from the TV show Glee:
Sue: You have enough product in your hair to season a wok.
An unexpected ending to an ordinary line (again, in Glee) can get an audience's attention.
Kurt: He's cheating off a girl who thinks the square root of four is rainbows.
You can raise eyebrows by ironically agreeing with your interlocutor.
Will: Who's to say everything I do is one hundred percent on the ball?
Sue: No one would say that.
It's all about delivering the unexpected. The audience unconsciously hyperfocuses on your words and makes its own links to the familiar. The effort makes them more than passive listeners. They become active participants in your words. (If you're witty enough, you hear this participation in the form of laughter.) The links the brain makes between the familiar and the less familiar take place in electrochemical connections called synapses. Imagine if you ran into Angelina Jolie on an elevator. Even if you had never met her before, your brain has linked up enough synapses that you would have no trouble recognizing her. Stranger who doesn't know me, the brain says, while the synapses fire like crazy: Movies. Dark-haired women. Fat lips. Hollywood beauties. Eighty-seven adopted kids. Brangelina. And so on. What got your attention in the first place was the shock of seeing this familiar-looking woman. Your brain did the rest. Memorability comes in part from linking the familiar (Angelina!) with the unfamiliar (Hollywood star in my elevator!). The utterly familiar, on the other hand (same creepy guy you see every day, inspection sticker), gets ignored.
You know how camouflage works, using patterns and colors to fade into the background. Similarly, a good spy looks perfectly ordinary and speaks in perfectly ordinary ways. To rouse someone's awareness, you do the opposite: go for the unusual and unexpected. Later on, you'll see figures that help you sneak up on an audience and give it a rhetorical knock on the head. The more surprising figures mug the audience's expectations, twist grammar or logic, or marry unlike things. You can use them to look witty, tell a memorable story, get a laugh, or change the emotions in the room. But all figures deliver something out of the ordinary. Every good figure is an attention-getting figure.
I selected the best figures for the tools in this book. The easiest and most fun part of rhetoric, figures compose the core of my language blog, Figarospeech.com, where I take on the guise of Figaro (last name "Speech"), a committed, even obsessive, "figurist," or coiner of figures. Figaro explores the tricks and pratfalls of language in politics and the media. Owing to our national ignorance of rhetoric, I tend to find more pratfalls than tricks. But knowing your figures can turn you from someone of the pratfall variety into a skilled practitioner of the art. With the right tools, you will gain the ability to compose beautiful prose, express irrefutable anger, proclaim your love, get people on your side, or thank them as they have never been thanked.