the skill of speaking clearly and with an accent that is considered correct
Origin and usage
The word elocution comes from the Late Latin word ‘elocutio’ which means ‘a speaking out’ or ‘manner of expression’. The word first appeared in English during the mid-15th century.
Elocution is a skill used by many people who must speak in public or as part of their job. Proper elocution involves speaking clearly with a neutral accent. It’s a skill that can be learned and must be practised. In the 19th century, tongue twisters were developed by elocution experts to help people improve their speech.
Tongue twisters are short sentences or phrases that contain a number of similar words or word sounds. They are meant to be difficult to say aloud properly. Examples of common English tongue twisters include ‘She sells sea shells by the seashore’ and ‘Little lady Lilly lost her lovely locket’.
It seems odd that sentences that are extremely difficult to say should be used to help people improve their elocution, but tongue twisters were used throughout the 19th and 20th centuries as a way of improving the mechanics of speech and pronunciation. Tongue twisters force speakers to practise the consonant sounds essential to clear elocution and to work on speaking words aloud quickly and clearly.
Lionel Logue, the elocutionist who famously worked with King George VI to help correct his stammer, used a variety of tongue twisters in his therapy regimen, as well as other unconventional elocution techniques such as breathing exercises and word substitutions. He even instructed his clients to shout vowel sounds out of a window!
“We have this wonderful language and we don’t appreciate it. That’s old-fashioned me, but when I went to school, everyone had elocution lessons, not to sound posh but so you could be understood.”