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President Kennedy's speaking/writing style

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Continuing discussion from main Talbot thread.

(Previously, approximately, here:


Copied from the old thread:

Thanks guys,

Personally I think Kennedy did write for the most point his own words, ably assisted by Sorensen, though not to the detraction of what Kennedy wished to say.

I feel incomparably amongst US Presidents, I'm aware of, his oratory was his outstanding strength and as John says his ability to go off the cuff was remarkable.

Once again thank you for your efforts in enlightening me.


I would really like to know more about his speeches as well. What I know at this point is on this thread. And when I google the subject I see no name but Sorensen. But most presidents have many speech writers and he gave almost daily speeches, often multiple times per day, so I assume he had more.

What I do know from reading so many of his speeches is that his style was very consistent and distinctive. They contained words that are outside of the standard spoken vocabulary, and had regular literary references. At the same time they're very plain spoken and precise. When he spoke, seemingly, off the cuff (press conferences, meetings, journal, etc) he had much the same style and vocabulary and scope of cultural literacy. So it seems like the speech writer(s) and he were in synch.

He almost always had a strong opening line, relatively weak closing line, and a quote in the last 2/3 or so. I've read that he preferred short sentences. And probably his trademark was his use of chiasmus (a word I just learned--here in fact:

http://www.chiasmus.com/mastersofchiasmus/kennedy.shtml, "chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus) n . a reversal in the order of words

in two otherwise parallel phrases). For example:

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

"Let us never negotiate out of fear; but let us never fear to negotiate."

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind."

"Liberty without learning is always in peril and learning without liberty is always in vain."

"Each success brings with it the potential of failure and each failure brings with it the potential of success."


I wonder where that trademark originated.

I understand his childhood in a large family was a free thinking wide ranging table talk. His dad didn't inhibit but encouraged it. It has some hallmarks of DeBono's lateral thinking in being provocative and 'mind opening'. It's a style that allows 'new' ideas where dogma may otherwise be dominant. It (DeBono) is also a style that involves wit, as well as 'thinking outside the box'.

There is also a touch Marx's dialectics*. IOW the interdependence of opposites. Thesis - Antithesis. In every act is a seed of it's opposite. Buddhist thinking is also evoked, as Pali, Buddhas language had a way of expressing the opposites as specific words rather than a collection of words. For example, 'there is no-god' doesn't mean 'there is no god', but that the idea of 'no-god' exists.

'Freethinking' has a history as well. I imagine Kennedy as the true scholar was well trained in open mindedness, and much of what he says provokes the listener to think differently than otherwise. A liberating experience that those who would allow it for themselves value immensely.

Kennedy just by being who he was was a threat to some.


"Kennedy received his secondary education in private schools. After finishing high school in 1935 he spent a semester studying in England in the London School of Economics*, then studied for some time at Princeton University /USA/, from which he transferred to Harvard University /USA/, which he completed with honors in 1940 with a degree in political science*. In 1940 Kennedy attended a course of lectures in the trade-and-commerce department of Stanford University.

Not long before the Second World War Kennedy visited a series of countries in Latin America, the Near East, and Europe, including the Soviet Union*."

ie He had first hand experiences of the countries he would deal with as President, including the USSR at around the age of 23. It's not unreasonable to assume he was well versed in dialectics*.

Edited by Myra Bronstein
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