Let’s be honest with ourselves, romance, seduction, lovemaking, mindless fucking, it’s all better when you’re with someone who knows how to say the right things in the right way. I am talking about love letters, I am talking sensual whispers, I am talking about those savage moments when you throw your partner on the bed and start talking dirty. Whatever it is, it isn’t the same without words.
As a speechwriter, it is in my nature to overanalyse language whenever I encounter it, and yes, that means in the bedroom too. Whilst we are engrossed in the grasps of intimacy we say things that we otherwise wouldn’t thus opening a whole new world of rhetorical delights.
When it comes to seduction, rhetoric is that phrase that sneaks its way into a lover’s ear and rushes down into the soul to create a desperate urge with only one outlet. It makes us weak, it makes us horny and it makes us fall in love. Despite this, we never tend to think of Rhetoric as an aphrodisiac.
I think the obvious example to start with is epizeuxis, which is possibly the most used rhetorical trope during sex. In this context, when I’m talking about ‘sex’ I’m not referring to dainty foreplay; I’m referring to the heat of the moment, all systems go, full throttle and you’re both charging towards the climax. Epizeuxis is simply the repetition of a single word again and again and again. Have you ever found yourself or your partner moaning ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’? Well, that is epizeuxis. Have you ever wondered why we just say yes so many times? Can’t we just say ‘yup that’s good, keep it up’. Not as sexy, is it? It is because epizeuxis is a trope that we use to express emotions, feelings, and passions. It also happens to rhythmically fit in with the primal thrusting of lovemaking. Epizeuxis can be any word that is repeated multiple times in consecutive order. It can be the word ‘yes’, it can be the word ‘fuck’ or even just the person’s name…
But it’s not just epizeuxis. We also love to use ethos in the bedroom. Of course, when we’re getting down and dirty we don’t call it that, we call it ‘role play’. Ethos is how we choose to characterise ourselves or others. Even saying something as simple as ‘you naughty little minx’ is a use of ethos. This particular example is also a use of antonomasia, which is when you refer to something or someone by a characteristic.
The relationship between ethos and role play is much wider than this one example. Every fantasy tends to play on some sort of assertion of ethos and the idea that one person can dominate another – let’s be honest, we all get a kick out of it. As Oscar Wilde said “everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Through rhetoric, ethos can enhance that power thus enhancing the overall sexual experience. Generally, you tend to find that the kinkier the sex gets, the more ethos there is at play.
Taking a step back from the full throttle thrusts of epizeuxis and the kinky whips of ethos, there are also other rhetorical tropes that we all love to use during foreplay. Many lovers enjoy listing things they like about their partner. For example: ‘I love your face. I love your eyes. I love your…’ – you get the picture. This example is also a use of both anaphora and isocolon. Anaphora refers to the repetition at the beginning of a clause and isocolon is when you use a series of clauses of the same length or rhythm. Listing what you love elongates the time that it takes to say ‘I love you’ and also allows you to really saviour the moment with all your available senses.
They say that a compliment can go a long way. Is it any surprise then that we like to compliment each other in bed? In case anyone is confused, I’m talking about the sort of compliments that we wouldn’t normally share in the office (if you get my gist). In a speech, giving someone a compliment to further your own agenda is called comprabatio, and it is no different than when we do it with lovers. We compliment our lovers on their looks, their features and even their performance: ‘you’re so good’, ‘you’re so hot’, ‘fuck you’re amazing’ these are all examples of comprabatio. As you can imagine, giving and receiving compliments during sex heightens our own confidence which in turn impacts on our performance. As one of my friends likes to say: comprabatio leads to fellatio.
As you can see from the few examples I’ve given, we deploy a whole host of rhetorical tropes when we’re in the mood. But we don’t just use rhetoric during sex, we use it in all areas of our life, including romance.
What better example of romance to use than Mr. Darcy from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. When proposing to Elizabeth he says, “You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. And wish from this day forth never to be parted from you.”
To normal people, this is the very pinnacle of poetic romance. To a rhetorician, this is an ascending tricolon of anaphora with epizeuxis, antithesis, kairos and a side serving of pathos.
Rhetoric and words play an important role in our lives, and that role extends to both romance and sex. Rhetoric, if used correctly, can excite romance, titillate flirtation and heighten passion which in turn enhances pleasure. As exciting as all of this may sound, I wouldn’t recommend you think about it in too much depth next time you find yourself in the midst of the heat – it can really kill the mood.
Guy Doza works as a professional speechwriter in Cambridge. He has written for politicians, scientists, business leaders and CEOs. On one occasion he was even asked to write a speech for a hamster.