Word Challenge V: Two Words, One Speech – Frederick Douglass!


Part V of our six part series examines the words of Frederick Douglass.  Written by Akil Bello, co-founder of Bell Curves, this entry was originally posted by Riise on 2/13/12.

In keeping with the theme of Independence Day, this week’s speech was delivered by Fredrick Douglass on that date in 1852. This speech is not only a great oration it also provides an interesting insight into the time and place of its delivery. Douglass had been invited to speak as part of an Independence Day celebration by the leading citizens of Rochester, NY. The line highlighted below shows not only the depth of his language mastery but also his opinion of the state of American “independence” and the arrogance of inviting him to participate in the Independence Day events, given that he was an escaped slave who had been freed, and was still fighting for freedom for all other slaves.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!”

The two words that I’ll highlight from this work, which is chock full of great words, are tumultuous and cleave.

Tumultuous (adjective)
Making a loud, confused noise; uproarious.
Excited, confused, or disorderly.
Tumultuous is the perfect word for describing that time and probably much of Douglass’s life, and it’s also a highly popular word in written works and on standardized tests. This is one of those words that anyone who hopes to fully understand what she reads should know.

Cleave (verb)
Split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain.
Stick fast to: “Rose’s mouth was dry, her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth”.
The use of cleave helps to express the depth of emotion and level of rage he feels about the state of his people and the incongruity of his being asked to celebrate with his oppressors. Cleave also attracts my attention because it’s a contranym, a word that is its own antonym.

Rather than a sample question I’m going to encourage you to go read the full text of the speech and learn the words he used so you can fully grasp the depth of his movingly impassioned and justifiably enraged speech.

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