Steve Jobs – Figures of Speech


Steve Jobs uses various different rhetorical measures to create emotional appeals in the audience. Some rhetorical figures and other elements may not be used without direct intention or even by accident. An indirect intentional use would be if a speaker wanted to create a certain effect and choose unconsciously an according action, e.g., a rhetorical figure. In this article we take a closer look on his use of figures of speech in the iPhone Presentation (MacWorld 2007 Keynote).

Jobs uses various rhetorical figures of speech. He applies these figures mostly in parts that appear to be well prepared, an indicator for these parts is is the low frequency of “uh”s and generally the style has a higher level in these areas, e.g., less colloquial language. Steve Jobs used figures of speech in his previous speeches, for an analysis of Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stanford University in 2005, take a look at the public speaking blog “Six Minutes” from the coach and public speaker Andrew Dlugan.

Rhetorical figures create certain impressions at the audience, yet these impressions depend on the context. Due to the large number of figures a description of the effects of each figure is omitted. What follows is a brief description of the structure of the applied figures with examples from the keynote in combination with an approximate timestamp. Since many figures are used in combination a note is added in parenthesis, if there is more than one figure present in a word sequence.

Figures of Speech used by Steve Jobs

Here is a list of the used figures with selected examples from the speech; roughly ordered by the frequency of appearances in descending order:

  • Interrogatio is a rhetorical question, thus the answer is self-evident from the situation of the speaker.
    • “…and I’d love to show it [a new ad] to you now, if you’d like to see it?” ([00:03:39])
    • “Isn’t that unbelievable?” ([00:06:26])
    • “Isn’t that incredible?” ([00:07:34])
    • “Want to see that again?” ([00:41:47])
    • “Pretty cool, huh?” ([00:47:30])
  • Anaphora is the repetition of a beginning word (sequence) after a comma or colon.
    • “As you know, we’ve got the.. the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.” ([0:05:01])
    • “We solved it in computers 20 years ago. We solved it with a bit-mapped screen that could display anything we want. Put any user interface up. And a pointing device. We solved it with the mouse. Right? We solved this problem.” ([00:32:27])
  • Epiphora is the repetition of a concluding word (sequence) before a comma or colon. Most epiphoras are used in combination with anaphoras, thus they become symplokes.
    • “Well, these are their these are their home screens. And again, as you recall, this is iPhone’s home screen. uhm this this is what their contacts look like. This is what iPhone’s contacts look like, and again,” ([01:27:23])
  • Symploke is the combination of one or several anaphora(s) with one or several epiphora(s).
    • “Our new colleagues at Intel really helped us. Thank you very much. Our thir… Our third-party developers rapidly moving their apps to universal versions to run at native speeds on Intel processors. Thank you very much.” ([00:02:02])
    • “In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh, it didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and… it didn’t just – it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.” ([00:27:12] with parallelism and geminatio)
    • “We’re gonna use the best pointing device in the world. We’re gonna use a pointing device that we’re all born with – we’re born with ten of them. We’re gonna use our fingers. We’re gonna touch this with our fingers.” ([00:33:33])
    • “The first rich html e-mail on a phone. The first real Web browser on a phone.” ([01:15:35])
  • Geminatio is the repetition of a word or word group within one sentence.
    • “That’s 58 songs every second of every minute of every hour of every day.” ([00:06:26] with syndeton, parallelism, and climax.)
    • “And the problem is that they’re not so smart and they’re not so easy to use, so if you kinda make a… Business School 101 graph of the smart axis and the easy-to-use axis, phones, regular cell phones are kinda right there, they’re not so smart, and they’re – you know – not so easy to use.” ([00:30:28])
    • “And so I’ve got voice mail how I wanna listen to it, when I wanna listen to it, in any order I wanna listen to it with visual voice mail.” ([00:56:49] with asyndeton)
  • Subiectio is a mock dialogue (thus a monologue) with question and answer, included in the speech to enhance the line of thought.
    • “What does this mean? It means you can take one of the computers in your house, and right from iTunes, just like you would set up an iPod, you could set up your Apple TV.” ([0:15:00], with exemplum)
    • “Well, how do you solve this? Hmm. It turns out, we have solved it!” ([00:32:27] with exclamatio)
    • “And, what’s wrong with their user interfaces? Well, the problem with them is really sort of in the bottom 40 there. It’s, it’s this stuff right here.” ([00:31:33], with the message visually underlined on the slides)
    • “How many of you do that? I bet more than a few.” ([00:49:19])
  • Apostrophe is the turning away from the normal audience to another audience.
    • “Phil, what do you got on your MacBook. You got some content we could watch?” [00:23:31]
  • Exclamatio is an exclamation that expresses the emotional affection of the speaker.
    • “I just take my unit here, and I turn it landscape mode, oh, look what happens! I’m in cover flow.” ([00:43:43])
    • “The killer app is making calls!” ([00:49:04])
    • “Wah, whoa, what is this?” ([00:52:30])
    • “Oh, look, Apple’s up! That’s great!” ([01:11:13])
  • Onomatopoeia is the use or invention a word whose sound imitates that which it names, due to the union of phonetics and semantics.
    • “Boom.” (several times)
  • Hyperbole is an exaggeration of the characteristics of an object or circumstance.
    • “We also have the coolest photo management app uh ever, certainly on a mobile device, but I think maybe ever.” ([00:58:42])
    • “It’s the coolest one that we’ve ever seen.” ([01:29:12])
    • “Best version of Google Maps on the planet, widgets, and all with Edge and wi-fi networking.” ([01:15:56])
    • “It’s the ultimate digital device.” ([01:30:53])
  • Simile is an explicit comparison between two things, usually using “as” or “like”.
    • “It [multitouch] works like magic.” ([00:33:33])
    • “Now, software on mobile phones is like is like baby software.” ([00:34:55])
    • “Just like you’d set up an iPod or an Apple TV. And you set up what you want synced to your iPhone. And it’s just like an iPod. Charge and sync. So sync with iTunes.” ([00:37:55])
    • “Same as a BlackBerry.” ([01:03:51])
  • Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound beginnings, especially of consonants, of at least two successive or neighboring words of a syntactical unit.
    • “there was an article recently that said iTunes sales had slowed dramatically.” ([00:06:26])
    • “Well, we don’t have data for December yet,” ([00:09:23])
    • “It doesn’t work because the buttons and the controls can’t change. They can’t change…” ([00:32:22])
    • “Now, we’ve also got some stuff you can’t see.” ([00:39:38])
    • “I’ve got a camera here so you can see what I’m doing with my finger for a few seconds.” ([00:41:47])
    • “And the third app I wanna show you as part of the phone package is photos.” ([00:58:42])
    • “Starbucks, so I’m gonna search for Starbucks, and sure enough, there’s all the Starbucks.” ([01:13:02])
  • Aporia is a (feigned) statement of doubt by the speaker and a question to the audience, about how he should act.
    • “Now, how are we gonna communicate this? We don’t wanna carry around a mouse, right? So what are we gonna do?” ([00:32:54])
    • “Well, how do I scroll through my lists of artists? How do I do this?” ([00:42:29])
    • “So what should we price it at? Well, what do these things normally cost?” ([01:30:53])
    • “What should we charge for iPhone?” ([01:31:46])
    • “So how much more than $499 should we price iPhone?” ( [01:32:15])
  • Climax is the increase from a weaker to a stronger expression. Thus, a word (sequence) is arranged in ascending order.
    • “But smart phones are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They’re really complicated. Just for the basic stuff a hard time figuring out how to use them.” ([00:30:41])
    • “First was the mouse. The second was the click wheel. And now, we’re gonna bring multi-touch to the market.” ([00:34:20])
    • “And rather than just give you a WAP version of the New York Times, rather than give you this wrapped version all around, we’re showing you the whole New York Times Web site, and there it is.” ([01:08:00]; also includes a geminatio (”rather than”))
    • “Wouldn’t it be great – if you didn’t – if you had six voice mails if you didn’t have to listen to five of them first before you wanted to listen to the sixth? Wouldn’t that be great if you had random access voice mail? Well, we’ve got it.” ([0:49:58] with interrogatio and anaphora)
  • Asyndeton is a sequence of words or similar expression without the use of conjunctions.
    • “We’ve got movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, photos.” ([00:16:06])
    • “But it also syncs a ton of data: Your contacts, your calendars and your photos, which you can get on your iPod today, your notes, your..your bookmarks from your Web browser, your e-mail accounts, your whole e-mail set-up.” ([00:37:19])
    • “Thinner than the Q, thinner than the BlackJack, thinner than all of them.” ([00:38:31] with anaphora.)
    • “A lot of custom silicon. Tremendous power management. OSX inside a mobile device. Featherweight precision enclosures. Three advanced sensors.” ([01:30:00])
  • Anadiplosis is the repetition of the last word of a sentence or sequence that is also the first word of the following sentence or sequence.
    • “And they garnered two percent market share. Two percent market share. uh iPod had 62 percent market share, and the rest had 36.” ([00:09:43])
    • “And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons, just for it.” ([00:32:07])
    • “It doesn’t work because the buttons and the controls can’t change. They can’t change for each application, and they can’t change down the road if you think of another great idea you wanna add to this product.” ([00:32:22])
  • Personification is the attribution of human properties towards things or animals. In the following examples “it” refers to the iPhone.
    • “It already knows how to power manage.” ([00:35:00])
    • “And if there’s a new message it will tell me.” ([00:57:27])
    • “Now it knows who Phil is cause he is in my address book.” ([01:25:00])
  • Polyptoton is the repetition of the same word but in a different form. In the following cases for verbs:
    • “Ok, now, you also can’t think about the Internet without thinking about Yahoo.” ([01:19:51])
    • “It automatically pairs with iPhone so you don’t have to worry about pairing.” ([01:29:00])
  • Antitheton is the opposition of two facts of contrasting content. The opposite may be expressed in speech by means of single words, word groups, or sentences.
    • “They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not to be there.” ([00:31:43], also a geminatio “there”)
    • “The kind of things you would find on a typical phone, but in a very untypical way now.” ([00:50:00])
  • Euphemism is a substitution of an agreeable or non-offensive expression for one whose ordinary meaning might be harsh or unpleasant.
    • “Now, software on mobile phones is like is like baby software.” ([00:34:55])
    • “We wanted the best web browser in the world on our phone, not a baby web browser or a WAP browser, a real Web browser, and we picked the best one in the world, Safari, and we have Safari running on iPhone.” ([01:02:00])
  • Confessio is the confession of an error or weak spot. In its original form it was the confession of an error towards the opposition.
    • “… so I’ll probably stumble and call this iTV five times today by mistake. I apologize. So Apple TV.” ([00:12:32])
    • “And I didn’t sleep a wink last night.” ([01:44:14])
    • “It does error prot uh prevention and correction. Not that I won’t make some, I probably will.” ([00:57:45])
  • Distributio is the division of the main concept in sub concepts. Due to expended visualization the main concept gains a greater importance.
    • “So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.” ([0:28:44] with parallelism)
    • “So, Internet communicator, an iPod and a phone.” ([01:23:20])
  • Polysyndeton is the repetition of conjunctions in a series of coordinate words, phrases, or clauses.
    • “It’s got everything from Cocoa and the graphics and it’s got core animation built in and it’s got the audio and video that OSX is famous for.” ([0:35:43] with geminatio)
  • Metaphor is a “comparison made by referring to one thing as another.” Steve Jobs seems to prefer the figure simile to metaphor.
    • “A huge, heart transplant to Intel microprocessors.” ([00:01:03])
    • “What we wanna do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been, and super-easy to use.” ([00:30:53])
  • Allusio is an implicit reference to an opus, text, person, etc.
    • “He told me this, he said, you had me at scrolling.” ([00:48:45]; is a reference to the movie Jerry Maguire, with the quote “you had me at hello”.)
  • Anastrophe is the reversal of the normal sequence of two words in direct succession.
    • “… and they all have these plastic little keyboards on them.” (instead of “little plastic”; [00:30:00])
    • “And boy, have we patented it.” (instead of “we have”; [00:33:54])
    • “… and up pop my favorites , …” ([00:54:30])
  • Ambiguity is the polysemy of a word (sequence).
    • “And you can guess who our next Target might be.” ([00:06:59]; “Target” is a chain of discount department stores and was selling more music than Apple.)
  • Irony is the expression of something by means of a word or sentence that describes the opposite.
    • “Oh, a stylus, right? We’re gonna use a stylus.” ([00:33:00])

Distribution and Usage of Figures of Speech in different Parts of the Presentation

The frequency of figures is not constant throughout the keynote. For the upcoming analysis the keynote was separated in five different parts, which are named Beginning, iPhone Intro, iPhone Demo, Summary, and Fade-out. The following analysis relates the frequency of the figures to that of the “uh”s. Here you can find a complete transcript of the iPhone keynote (MacWorld 2007).

Part Textsize in % % of “uh”s Figure Density Figure Complexity
Beginning 23.23 % 30.39 % low medium
iPhone Intro 15.95 % 2.21 % very high high
iPhone Demo 43.78 % 57.46 % medium low to medium
Summary 14.47 % 4.97 % high medium
Fade-out 2.56 % 4.97 %

The size of the transcript was used in relationship to the distribution of figures and “uh”s, since it is difficult to use the time as an indicator, because there are various interruptions in form of advertisements, video clips, guest speakers, and other performances. Therefore, the size of the transcript without timestamps is used.

In the first 26 minutes, before the iPhone is presented, there are only a few figures. Also the number of “uh”s is about 55, which is nearly one third of all “uh”s in the whole keynote. The intro takes up about one quarter (23 %) of the transcripted text.

From [00:26:22] to [00:41:08], where Steve Jobs talks about the iPhone before he shows it to the audience, the use of figures is the highest in the keynote. This part takes a little less than 16 % of the whole transcripted text, but only about 2 % of the number of “uh”s. Thus, there is a strong negative correlation between the number of “uh”s and the usage of figures of speech. Additionally, the complexity of the figures of speech is high.

In the part from [0:41:10] to [1:26:56], where the iPhone is presented in detail during various demos, the use of figures is low to moderate, yet most figures are questioning figures like subiecto (self-answered questions) and the interrogatio (rhetorical questions) or simple effects like hyperboles (exaggerations) and onomatopoeia (”boom”). This part takes a little more than 43 % of the whole transcripted text and nearly 58 % of the number of “uh”s. Due to the many tech demos this is not unsurprisingly. The aforementioned figures fit to this purpose, because they are not too elaborate, yet provide aesthetics and certain degree of variation. Additionally, a lot of these figures are seen as the trademark phrases of Steve Jobs.

From [01:27:00] to [01:45:20] Steve Jobs makes a summary about the iPhone, then he continues with the price and the market. In this section of the keynote, the quantity and complexity of the figures is the second largest in the keynote. The “uh”s account for almost 5 % of all “uh”s in the keynote, whereas this part contains about 14 % of the transcripted text. This part uses mainly rhythm and speed figures, like long anaphoras (repetition of the beginning) and asyndetons (no use of conjunctions). Additionally, Steve Jobs used the aporia extensively, when he asked the audience how much Apple should price the iPhone.

The fadeout of the keynote lasts from about [1:45:21] to the end, where Steve Jobs thanks the families and introduces John Mayer. It contains almost 5 % “uh”s, which is the same number as the previous part. Yet, it amounts for only 2.5 % of text.

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