I've been analysing Winston Churchill's speeches a lot recently and I noticed that he tends to say the "harsh truth" in his speeches in order to gain credibility for his claims/himself. Here's an example from the speech Give Us The Tools:

(Hitler's) clutching fingers reach out on both sides of us into the ocean. I have never underrated this danger, and you know I have never concealed it from you. Therefore, I hope you will believe me when I say that I have complete confidence in the Royal Navy...

What is the technical term for this in terms of rhetorical devices?

  • I'm unsure why you think that is the harsh truth. It simply sounds direct to me. Harsh truth carries a connotation of hurting someone's feelings. Are you asking about describing Hitler having "clutching fingers" as a rhetorical device? That would be a metaphor for his actions. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:38
  • I'm not sure why you think he necessarily relied on the truth, let alone "harsh truth." No doubt he saw Hitler as a threat; but of course, many in the distant lands that Britain colonized saw Churchill as a threat as well. Also, telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10151126/…
    – user66965
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:54
  • I was using "harsh truth" as a figure of speech. I'm not saying that it is the truth. I'm just trying to find out the technical name of the literary technique in which you do not say that "everything is ok" when it isn't, and use that lack of "flowering the truth" in order to gain credibility for you claims/yourself. I can't really name it because that is what I am trying to find out - that's why I used a figure of speech to refer to it.
    – Pixelchai
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 14:58
  • "Language of truth" is quite contradictory with rhetoric that promotes an apparent truth. At a first level of interpretation, you don't use rhetorical effects when speaking the truth.
    – Graffito
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 15:49
  • Yes, I see what you mean. In fact, this same thing could be said of Trump, whom many believe "tells it like it is" when he calls out losers and says the U.S. "never wins anymore." I'd say his rhetorical technique does not rely on "harsh truth" or "telling it like it is," but rather on "appealing to the emotions" of his supporters. Some things Trump says are actually true, but, IMO, no such word as "plain speaking" or "honesty" applies, because much of what he says is false. Perhaps Churchill was more "honest" than Trump, perhaps not. But both played to the emotions, mostly fear.
    – user66965
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:02

3 Answers 3


There are multiple levels here, as you would expect from a politician.

On the surface he is engaging in plain speaking

plain speaking - Adjective

Talking in a frank, outspoken, or blunt manner


However, he is also highlighting this as a quality of himself to persuade the audience that he can be trusted in his opinions about a superficially related matter.

In essence he is entreating his audience that believe his opinions about the Royal Navy by showing that he is honest is other matters where someone else might have sought to "sweeten the pill" by downplaying the impact of the harsh truth (to use your words). In other words, he is saying "You can believe me, I am always blunt and honest no matter the consequences".

  • Anything but plain, i'd argue. Anything related to politics, be it a simple "I like airplanes" sentence, it's a composed, calculated, manipulative one. It's anything but, and only plain on the superficial level. /Paranoia :)
    – Sakatox
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:13
  • I thought there would be an exact word to describe this but I guess there isn't. At the end of the day, I decided to describe this technique by talking about it without specifically naming it. This answer is very constructive and helped me out a lot (as well as ericgregory's answer).
    – Pixelchai
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:36

In Aristotle's conception of rhetoric, you would call this an appeal to the ethos of the speaker -- in this case, the credibility Churchill contends that he's built through a history of plain-speaking. It's not so much the speaking of difficult truths that constitutes a rhetorical maneuver here as his highlighting an authority-conferring quality that is meaningful to his audience.


This approach to rhetoric could be aptly labelled as honesty:

The quality of being honest

It is a rare thing to find in political oratory, but is a stratagem by which the speaker incurs the cost by being truthful in one matter, increasing the trust of his audience, so that they are more apt to believe in what he says next.

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