Friday, April 10, 2009


allocution [AL-ə-KYOO-shən]
n. a formal speech

[From Latin allocūtiō, combining al- ("tendency") + loquī ("to speak")]

Allocution tends to be used in technical jargon in two distinct forms -- one within the Roman Catholic Church; the other in a courtroom. When the president of the United States, for example, delivers his annual State of the Union address, that's clearly a formal speech. However, it's not generally referred to as allocution, though it certainly could be.

Here is a rare example -- I found it in a book published in 1891 -- where allocution is used in a non-technical sense as a formal speech:
Speeches now followed in rapid succession, but the allocution delivered by M. Sasvari was the most striking illustration of internationalism. He commenced in Magyar, and after a few complimentary words to his Hungarian colleagues, assured the Austrian and German guests, himself speaking in good German, that the Hungarians recognised how much their civilisation was due to the Germanic races. Then speaking in French, he explained that Hungary admired the great French nation, which, marching in the vanguard of progress, had given to the world the highest and most generous ideas. Now changing from French to Italian, he spoke of the glories of ancient Rome to be revived at no distant date. Finally, concluding in fluent English, he greeted the brave children of Great Britain, who had borne the banner of civilisation to the uttermost regions of the globe.

In the Catholic context, an allocution is "a solemn form of address or speech from the throne employed by the Pope ... delivered only in a secret consistory at which the cardinals alone are present."
An allocution of the Pope often takes the place of a manifesto when a struggle between the Holy See and the secular powers has reached an acute stage. It then usually summarizes the points at issue and details the efforts made by the Holy See to preserve peace. It likewise indicates what the Pope has already conceded and the limit which principle obliges him to put to further concessions. ... When the Pope has reached a conclusion on some important matter, he makes his mind known to the cardinals by means of a direct address, or allocution.

In the language of our courts, a defendant normally has the right of allocution:
... the right of a defendant to make a statement to the court on his own behalf and present information in mitigation of sentence. It started out as the ancient common-law practice of inquiring of every defendant if he had anything to say before sentence was imposed. Back in the day, when death was the only punishment and defendants had no counsel, the right of allocution was used to beg for mercy. In modern times, the right had evolved to permit a defendant to plead for a more lenient sentence and to fit with our modern sense of justice and the desire to rehabilitate.

Although allocution is somewhat uncommon and tends to be used only in its technical senses, its Latin root loquī ("to speak") is found in more than a dozen good English words, many of which are well known.

The three most common: colloquial ("characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing"); eloquent ("having or exercising the power of fluent, forceful, and appropriate speech"); and ventriloquism ("the art or practice of speaking, with little or no lip movement, in such a manner that the voice does not appear to come from the speaker but from another source, as from a wooden dummy").

Four words ending in -quy (pronounced kwee): colloquy ("a conversational exchange"); obloquy ("censure, blame, or abusive language aimed at a person or thing, esp. by numerous persons or by the general public"); soliloquy ("a dramatic or literary form of discourse in which a character talks to himself or herself or reveals his or her thoughts without addressing a listener"); and somniloquy ("the act or habit of talking in one's sleep").

Seven good nouns: circumlocution ("a roundabout or indirect way of speaking; the use of more words than necessary to express an idea."); colloquium ("a conference at which scholars or other experts present papers on, analyze, and discuss a specific topic"); elocution ("a person's manner of speaking or reading aloud in public"); grandiloquence ("speech that is lofty in tone, often to the point of being pompous or bombastic"); interlocution ("conversation; dialogue"); locution ("a particular form of expression; a word, phrase, expression, or idiom"); and prolucutor ("a presiding officer of an assembly; chairperson").

And a couple of adjectives: loquacious ("talking or tending to talk much or freely"); and magniloquent ("speaking or expressed in a lofty or grandiose style").

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