10 things you might not know about speeches
1. Sometimes a long speech can be a good thing. In 1912, presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt was about to talk in Milwaukee when a would-be assassin shot him. The bullet went through TR's coat, his eyeglass case and the speech itself — 50 pages on heavy paper, folded once. The slowed-down bullet cracked one of TR's ribs but wounded him only slightly. Making sure the audience saw his bloodied shirt, Roosevelt gave the entire speech.
2. Bughouse Square on Chicago's Near North Side was a place where even the down-and-out could commit oratory. The late author Studs Terkel recalled a speaker named One-Arm Cholly Wendorf raising the stub of his right arm and declaring, "You know where the rest of this is? Somewhere in France. Somewhere in a trench. … Cholly Wendorf's arm is enrichin' the soil that grows the grapes that bring you the best Cognac money can buy."
3. President John F. Kennedy's chief speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, knew his boss' speaking style so well that Kennedy sometimes arranged for Sorensen to impersonate him in phone calls.
4. Rep. Felix Walker, whose North Carolina district included Buncombe County, addressed Congress in 1820 during a debate over slavery. But when fellow lawmakers complained that his speech had little to do with the issue, he said he was making "a speech for Buncombe." That's how "buncombe" came to mean annoying and disingenuous language — leading to the words "bunk" and "debunk."
5. Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. According to Toastmasters International, a nonprofit education group that helps people improve their communication skills, it is the most commonly cited fear in the U.S.
6. Sojourner Truth, the former slave who fought for emancipation and women's rights, was known for her "Ain't I a Woman?" speech in 1851. But early accounts of her talk did not include that phrase. It was more than a decade later when versions start showing up with "Ain't I a woman?" or "Ar'n't I a woman?" quoted four times. Casting further doubt on whether she was quoted accurately, the latter versions were in a standard Southern slave dialect, even though Truth grew up in New York state, first learned to speak Dutch rather than English, and was said to have an accent similar to uneducated white Northerners.
7. Statesman Henry Clay of Kentucky once gave an hourlong speech on the U.S. Senate floor about his dead bull Orozimbo.
8. When Adolf Hitler attended a meeting of the German Workers Party in 1919, it provided one of the earliest hints of his power as a political orator. Hitler was about to leave the event when a speaker argued to split off a part of Germany. Outraged, Hitler rose to rail passionately against the idea. The speech impressed one of the party's founders, Anton Drexler, who told a companion: "He has a big mouth; we could use him." Shortly after Hitler joined the group, it changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party, the Nazis.
9. The original teleprompter, built in 1950, was just a roll of butcher paper on two tubes that was hand-cranked to advance the speech. TelePrompTer Corp., which built an electronic version, found success after former President Herbert Hoover used one to address the Republican National Convention in 1952. In 2010, Obama was criticized for using the device too much.
10. Dec. 7, 1941, was originally a "date which will live in world history." Not a great opening line. Fortunately, Franklin D. Roosevelt revised that to "a date which will live in infamy" before his address to Congress and the nation the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Touch and Go: A Memoir," by Studs Terkel; "White House Ghosts," by Robert Schlesinger; "One-Night Stands with American History," by Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger; "The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories"; "History of World War II, Vol. 1," by Marshall Cavendish; "Hitler," by Joachim C. Fest; "Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol," by Nell Irvin Painter; Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend," by Carleton Mabee with Susan Mabee Newhouse; Popular Science magazine, July 1960; Peggy Noonan White House exit interview from presidentialtimeline.org; bbc.co.uk; archives.gov.