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Why Do We Speak So Badly?

Why Do We Speak So Badly?

The Lost Art of Elocution and the Decline of Good Speech. Your Sunday morning thought piece.

The self-improvement industry is just enormous. It’s worth $41 billion worldwide says this report, but, by the time you factor in everything from health and diet to training and education to media, I think it’s much, much bigger than that.

We are almost all of us looking to improve ourselves in some way. We might spend fortunes and hours getting fit, strong or supple. We might spend ages making ourselves look beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how long my eldest daughter can spend getting herself ready for work. She’s only going to work! We might spend hours reading or listening podcasts about how we can improve our performance, our habits or our psychology. Of Amazon’s best selling books last year three of the top ten can be filed under self-improvement (Atomic Habits by James Clear and two Nathan Anthony books on healthy eating).

But there is one thing we don’t seem to spend any time trying to improve, and that is how we speak 

Occasionally, clips of people being interviewed way back when appear on Twitter or Facebook. Just ordinary folk. What is so amazing to me is just how beautifully people spoke. 

Compare that to the noises that come out of some peoples mouths today: the awful vowel sounds, the poor diction, even the language itself is frequently just so ugly.

Even actors and broadcasters, who are supposed to be professional speakers, are mostly dreadful. Little priority is given to excellence in voice and speech. When I hear actors in period dramas, I want to despair. Leading politicians are mostly awful. Listen to Rishi Sunak: the Prime Minister’s voice is puny. 


I had a father who was a theatrical, obsessed with the spoken word and I guess that has always made me look at the world - or should I say listen to the world - from that angle. He and I used to work together loads on various exercises. Then at drama school we spent hours and hours on voice and speech: humming, singing, diction exercises - exercising your tongue with little bits of wood between your teeth to stretch it (I can’t even remember what those bits of wood are called. Edit: bone props - thanks to reader Nicholas Benson).

“Articulatory agility is a desirable ability manipulating with dexterity the lips, the teeth and the tip of the tongue”. We had to say that over and over.

I guess that stood me in good stead because voiceovers became my primary source of income for 25 years. But even I don’t think I’ve done a voice or speech exercise in over a decade, and when I catch myself speaking I often think, “sloppy”.

Elocution lessons were a big thing once upon a time. People would actively try to improve the way they spoke in order to improve their situation. I guess, because of microphones and amplified sound, the need has gone away, though we are still judged on how we speak.

I know that there are plenty of voice and speech coaches today, but in general, this is one area of self-improvement that doesn’t seem to have taken off. How I wish it would. 

How often do you see somebody, who looks absolutely magnificent, only for them to open their mouth and then something horrendous comes out? 

But if you should criticise somebody’s voice or speech, that makes you a snob. “They can’t help how they speak,” comes the retort. Yes, they can. Voice and speech are physical skills. They improve with exercise. In the same way that we have a culture of exercise and sport, I wish we had a culture of improving our voice and speech as well.

It would make such a difference.

Never mind free speech. Let’s have some good speech.

Until next time,


PS Don’t forget my two shows this week on Feb 14th and 15th at the Museum of Comedy in London. All about gold. And delivered with impeccable diction.

If you are looking to buy gold in these uncertain times, let me recommend the Pure Gold Company, with whom I have an affiliation deal. They deliver to the UK, US, Canada and Europe, or you can store your gold with them. More here.

And, if you missed it, here is something interesting from earlier in the week:

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