Al Pacino famous “inch by inch” speech in the movie Any Given Sunday. Watch, then read the analysis with transcript and then read what you can learn from this speech.
This video is a great example for a speech with a great alignment of all three persuasive appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos. With alignment in this case I mean, that they are in a strong correlation with each other. First, there is an examination of the transcript, which deals mostly to show some of the rhetorical figures of speech used in this speech. It is followed by a description of the three persuasive appeals. To conclude a section about what can be learned from this speech is added.
The transcript provides some interesting insights in the structuring and rhetorical figures. I took it from this site. Notes are in brackets ““. RF
means rhetorical figure of speech. A number in brackets, e.g., “” refers to the according structural part. Most of figures are linked, also some general links can be found at the end of this site.
I don’t know what to say really. [RF: confessio = admitting an error.]
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today. [RF:hyperbole:biggest battle - all today]
as a team
or we are going to crumble. [RF: antithesis: heal vs. crumble]
Inch by inch
play by play
till we’re finished.[RF: parallelism: inch - play, climax: inch - play]
We are in hell right now, gentlemen [RF: hyperbole: hell]
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
we can fight our way
back into the light. [RF: geminatio = the repetition of a word or word group within one sentence: we can; antithesis: stay + kicked vs. fight + light]
We can climb out of hell. [RF: hyperbole]
One inch, at a time.
Now I can’t do it for you. [RF: confessio]
I’m too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
[RF: confessio + hyperbole]
I pissed away all my money [RF: geminatio: ladder of "I"s]
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
[RF: confessio + hyperbole]
I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.[RF: confessio + hyperbole]
You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches. [RF: metaphor: life = game of inches]
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small. [RF: synonymia: life - footbal]
one half step too late or too early
you don’t quite make it. [RF: antithesis]
One half second too slow or too fast [RF: antithesis]
and you don’t quite catch it.[RF: parallelism to the sentence above, also repetition of "too"; RF: anaphora: "one half"]
The inches we need are everywhere around us. [RF: hyperbole]
They are in every break of the game,
every minute, every second.[RF: geminatio: every; (anti)climax: break, minute, second; asyndeton]
 On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch. [RF: anaphora; exclamatio; hyperbole]
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that’s going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING. [RF: antithesis]
I’ll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch. [RF: hyperbole; simile: the guy who]
And I know
if I am going to have any life any more
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is. [RF: hyperbole; simile: willing to fight ...what living is]
The six inches in front of your face. [RF: exclamatio; also there is no verb in this "sentence"]
 Now I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals. [RF: antithesis; parallelism; hyperbole]
That’s football guys. [RF: simile]
That’s all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do? [RF: interrogatio]
The coach (Al Pacino) starts with expressing that he is overwhelmed by the situation. Thus, reflecting in his person the feelings of his players, this is a good example for aptum/decorum. He appears like a “broken warrior”, similar to his audience. His voice is slow and low, yet not without variation, e.g., he raises it for “I can’t do it for you”. Pacino’s body language is slow and not overly expressive. Additionally, he appears to be avoiding eye contact as much as possible.
Then, before the second minute he changes gradually form the “broken warrior” to an “old wise warrior” (who knows how to overcome any situation) with a strong spirit and experience. The whole energy goes up; his voice, body language, movements, content. He engages in strong eye contact with the audience. Yet, just before the end of the speech, there a sudden break right is initiated. He takes his energy back to underline that he is not the player/team (“warrior”), but the coach (“wise warrior”).
This speech is good a showcase for the emotional effects of rhetorical figures of speech. Most of these rhetorical figures can be easily discovered since they are visible in structure (recurring text patterns). As can be seen from the transcript above, there are many rhetorical figures and there are probably more. Rhetorical figures work with rhythms (repetition), contrasting emotions (antithesis), and other mostly unconscious effects. Yet, a rhetorical figure is mostly an enhancement of an already good speech.
In this paragraph I want to talk about the “emotional structuring” of the speech. After the beginning the coach does a rant about the wrong decisions and actions in his life. He takes this life situation and compares it to the game. Thus, taking the strong emotions of failing in life and letting them converge into the game. Hence, there is not only a comparison of game and life on a logical level (logos) but also with an emotional background. Finally, he offers a solution to win in life/game by expressing that it is a small step at a time (logos), while at the same time pushing his character (ethos) and creating emotional affects with various means from them underlined with rhetorical figures. (Note: ethos deals with expressing himself, whereas pathos deals with the emotional effects on the audience; ethos is a prerequisite for a functional pathos.)
Logos deals with structure, the messages, and argumentation of the speech. Al Pacino doesn’t argue about certain “facts”, e.g., “biggest battles”, ” You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football.”
The argumentation schemes are based on comparison and opposition (also notable in the figures of speech), e.g., “Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble.”, which also underlines the black and white attitude of the speech. (Note that a lot of the argumentation is not really sufficient from a logical viewpoint, also the conclusions are sometimes implicit or have to be taken by the audience.)
Now the structure:
- confession (about life)
- life to game analogy
- this team
- living is fighting
- you are the team
Al Pacino faces first the situation, which is also adapting to the situation (aptum). Then he goes into a rant about his life, which underlines his ethos. Furthermore, follows the analogy of life and game to the team. Then making the last point that living is fighting.
Now, the different structure elements contain different messages and are also presented with according pathos and ethos.
Uh, I nearly forgot to mention the overall theme of the speech (game of inches), it is mentioned over and over again, directly or in a clear reference.
What you can learn from this speech (and ask yourself accordingly)
- Adapting your ethos to the audience and the situation (aptum).
- Do I know the situation before-hand? Can I a refer to it shortly?
- Who is the audience? With whom the identify, what is an authority for them?
- That a strong underlying and recurring theme (game of inches) creates a higher retention and enables the audience to refer to the speech (and its emotions more easily afterwards.)
- Can you arrange your speech/presentation (and every sub-element) around one clear and simple theme?
- Are there points to differ from the overall theme, are they important?
- That a variation in energy level has a stronger result than the maintenance of one energy level. (Note: A speech with an unchanging energy level as comparison is necessary for this, which will be added here shortly.)
- Where should I throw in a variation, e.g., funny/interesting analogy, narrative element, quote, …?
- What parts of the speech could be presented more “formal”, energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, …
- That the alignment of ethos, pathos, and logos creates a synergy effect that enhances the message of the speech. Thus, when you prepare a speech that you try to communicate your message not only on a verbal level, but also with your character and emotions.
- Are my message and my delivery form in an alignment?
- Is my conversation style appropriate for the audience, the topic, and my overall appearance?
- That rhetorical figures of speech create a strong emotional effect. Also the knowledge about the underlying concepts of certain emotional figures, e.g., antithesis. Are supportive for creating more clear and vivid messages.
- Are there some parts I can spice up with rhetorical figures?
- Do I know slogans that I or the audience like, can I reuse them or at least their structure.
- That life is just a game of inches ;)
- Transcript source
- YouTube Video
- Silvae Rhetorica
- A Glossary of Rhetorical Terms with Examples (Selected examples and less formal)