Churchill’s Speech Problem: A Lisp, not a Stutter

by Richard M. Langworth on 5 April 2011

What many thought was stut­ter­ing was a prop, not a handicap.

Churchill’s speech prob­lem was a lisp. He could not pro­nounce the let­ter “S” and never really learned to do so—so he turned it into a prop, exag­ger­at­ing words like his famous “Narz­zsseess” for “Nazis.”

What some peo­ple thought was stut­ter­ing was his habit of turn­ing over a word or phrase in an under­tone before set­tling on the final words. He often used this tech­nique in speeches, because he found that it would stir peo­ple to renewed inter­est in what he was about to say next.

Exam­ple is a quote from his speech at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, 6 Sep­tem­ber 1943:“Man has parted com­pany with his faith­ful friend the horse, and has sailed into the azure on the wings of eagles—eagles being rep­re­sented by the infernal….uh, er, ah…..I mean inter­nal com­bus­tion engine…..ah….engine.” (Churchill By Him­self, 207.)  The “ers” and “ahs” don’t usu­ally show up in printed transcripts—but they were there.

But he never stut­tered in the med­ical sense of the term.

Har­vard, 1943

 

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