Part of your preparation for important negative strategies or for your affirmative case should be coming up with one or two memorable catchphrases.
A catchphrase is a word or expression that is used repeatedly and conveniently to represent or characterize a person, group, idea, or point of view.
Let’s look at what makes a good catchphrase, how to come up with catchphrases, and how to use catchphrases you’ve coined.
Principles of a good catchphrase
- Must be short and simple (usually around 10 words or less)
- Must avoid awkward wording
- Must be memorable and pleasant to the ear
- Must evoke some kind of emotion or agreement
A catchphrase is meant to stick in the head of the audience, so that when you’re done speaking, they can mentally repeat it to themselves.
While not all catchphrases are used to reinforce a point or as a slogan, that’s the kind we’ll be focusing on.
What makes a catchphrase pleasing to the ear?
- Rhyming (Click it or ticket)
- Alliteration (Cook up a catchphrase)
- Tone of voice when delivered (Sing songy and light, in some contexts)
- Parallelism (Having an equal amount of syllables before each rhyme. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” vs. “If it fit, you must acquit”. Although the second one is incorrect, it’s more pleasant to the ear.)
- Figures of speech
Figures of speech
I just want to briefly highlight a few figures of speech that can make your catchphrase stand out.
Starting two or more phrases, sentences, or verses with the same words. Example: Start thinking. Start acting. Start now.
Although two works fine, three is the most pleasant to the ear.
Using two contrasting ideas, words, or phrases together. Example: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
Example from the Bible: Many are called, but few are chosen.
Words or phrases reversed. Example: Many youthful men long for fame, and many famous men long for youth.
Obviously, a lot of these devices are difficult to coordinate unless you’re spending time making catchphrases outside of debate rounds. That’s why coming up with catchphrases is mostly a tournament prep thing.
While different people generate ideas in different ways, here is a method I used that worked well for me.
1. Think of the case/topic/argument that you want a catchphrase for.
If it’s your affirmative case, you’ll definitely want to spend a lot of time on this. Prioritize the rest according to the threat of the case.
2. Write a list of words/phrases that match the topic.
For example, if the topic is an agency that is ineffective, come up with a list of words like this:
Useless, ineffective, feckless, reckless, failing, fruitless, unprofitable, inadequate, trash, unsuccessful, inept, lame, awful, incompetent, weak, feeble, unfit.
Google synonyms if you’re having trouble coming up with them. If you want, you can also search for synonyms for each of the words and generate a larger list.
3. Try putting the words together into a catchphrase.
If there are any words that rhyme or work together well, see if you can make them work together.
One idea that popped out to me is using feckless and reckless. Although I’m trying to get across that the agency is weak, I found a different use for these two words.
Let’s say the negative team would frequently argue that making the agency stronger would result in chaos/reckless actions. I could use a catchphrase that highlighted that the agency is simply weak, not necessarily irresponsible or reckless.
So I’m re-purposing these two words into a new catchphrase: “The [agency] is feckless, not reckless.” It will make a good tag to respond to this negative argument.
If I did want to make the agency look weak and irresponsible, I could say “The [agency] is feckless, neckless, and reckless.”
4. If nothing comes to you yet, use a rhyming/alliteration dictionary.
The alliteration finder is actually more useful than you’d think, because it prioritizes words that rhyme or sound really good with the word that you search. Both of these tools are fantastic for generating ideas.
The way I use these tools is by taking the word I want to use (eg. reckless), and trying to see how I can fit it, along with a word that rhymes with it, into a catchphrase about the topic.
For example, the first word listed is “necklace”. How can I use that in a catchphrase with reckless? The first idea that comes to mind is “The [agency] wears a necklace of reckless.” It’s not really good, and it doesn’t have much punch. But it’s something. Just keep going through words until you find something that sounds better.
Note: don’t forget that near rhymes and multi-word rhymes are just as valid as perfect rhymes. “Wreck us” rhymes with reckless if you deliver it correctly.
Use multiple different rhyming dictionaries, you’ll get different results from different ones. Don’t just look in the section of perfect rhymes, sometimes what a dictionary counts as only a partial rhyme sounds like a perfect rhyme. (Eg. “breathless” and “reckless” sound good together, but all the dictionaries I saw listed them as end rhymes).
One of my cases dealt with an agency that frequently had vote deadlock. So when I searched for rhymes, I found the word “wedlock”. Instantly, I had an easy catchphrase. “The [agency] is in wedlock with deadlock”. Judges would usually smirk or laugh, and proceed to write it down.
The phrase isn’t particularly brilliant, but it is certainly more memorable than most things in a debate round.
Another one we used was “FEC no longer stands for Federal Election Commission, it stands for Failure to Enforce Commission”. This is too big to be an actual catchphrase, but we were able to come up with it because we were looking for catchphrases. And from that point in the round, we could occasionally refer to it as “Failure to Enforce Commission” in order to reinforce this idea in the judge’s head.
5. If all else fails…
If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific catchphrase, come up with something more generic. It could be one that applies to the underlying concept instead of the specific issue at hand. (Eg. Enforcement being a good thing, rather than addressing this specific agency’s lack of enforcement).
6. Write the catchphrases down in your negative/affirmative brief.
Make sure you actually have them somewhere accessible so your work doesn’t go to waste!
If you are writing a proper one page strategy sheet (you should be), then catchphrases can go in there.
7. Don’t settle for the first draft!
Try to improve on each of your catchphrases. If they’re missing one of the “pleasing to the ear” principles, see if you can fit it in.
Can you make it shorter? Make it more memorable? Add alliteration?
Catchphrases can be used in two ways:
- As tags for arguments
- As general rhetoric
Depending on the catchphrase, it may be suitable for one or the other.
Generally, catchphrases that aren’t very impressive are usually still good tags. “Wedlock with deadlock”, for example, is a pretty good tag. If I have a more clever catchphrase, I can use that in the rhetoric portion instead.
Analogies can also help you come up with catchphrases.
For example, in one round a team was abolishing an important agency to save a couple million dollars. I talked to the judge about how this is equivalent to breaking your back while trying to pick up a penny from the floor. It’s simply not a good trade-off.
After I introduced this analogy, I used “Don’t break your back to pick up a penny” as a catchphrase/tagline throughout the rest of the round.
Analogies are honestly really easy to figure out. If the other team does something ridiculous, just say to yourself “that’s like doing [x]” and coming up with a real life example to match it.
Even if it’s something as simple as “That’s like taking one bag of groceries at a time instead of loading up and making one trip from the car”. Then you can reference this analogy later by saying “Let’s take all the groceries”, etc. This could be useful against a case that, for example, approaches an issue in a very slow way or only addresses part of it.
That’s all there is to it!
Make sure to take some extra time to come up with a catchphrase next time you write a debate brief. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the extra punch a good catchphrase adds to your argument.
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