Definition Speeches - Plymouth School District

The Definition Speech
A definition speech:
 Is not a dictionary definition.
 Seeks to define concepts or processes in ways that make them relevant to the situation or
problem that an audience faces.
 Offers the audience an orientation, a way of thinking about a phenomenon.
The definition of “definition”:
def-i-ni-tion (def' e-nish' en) n. 1. The act of defining a word, phrase, or term. 2. The act of making clear and
distinct. 3. A determining of outline, extent, or limits.
A definition speech/essay should do more than just define a word...
A definition speech/essay explains what a specific term means.
Some terms are definite, and have concrete meanings such as book or chair.
Other terms are more abstract and their meaning may depend more upon the person’s point of view.
For example, terms such as love or bravery, may mean different things to different people at different times.
It goes without saying, then, that you need to understand the term before you can define it for others.
Reading the dictionary helps - but don't just copy the definition word for word. You should explain the term in
your own words. Also, you might want to limit your term before defining it.
Essential Steps to an Effective Speech/Essay of Definition:
Specify what term is being defined.
Give clear and basic information.
Use facts or examples that are clearly understood.
Use facts or examples that are not controversial.
You could write for days about “bravery”. To limit your definition, you should be more specific and
write about either “extraordinary bravery,” “everyday bravery,” or “bravery on the battle field”.
Your Thesis Statement
The thesis statement must identify the term being defined and provide a brief, general definition.
Bravery on the battlefield has been declared to be ordinary men - in extraordinary circumstances - doing
extraordinary things.
Sometimes, as in the battlefield bravery example above, the definition can be one that you make up yourself.
The simplest way to do this is to define a term by:
Function - Explain what something does or how something works.
Structure - Tell how something is organized.
Analysis - Compare the term to other members of its class.
As always, facts and easily understood examples will give your essay an air of authority. When writing a
definition speech/essay, remember to tell audience members/readers what term is being defined and to use facts
and examples that audience members/readers will clearly understand.
Consider the following guidelines as you write your definition speech/essay:
Make your speech/essay personal, amusing, vigorous, stimulating, memorable.
Choose a generic topic rather than a specific topic. For example, write about churches but not
Westminster Abbey.
Types of Definitions Traditionally Used in Definition Speeches/Essays
Any combination of these traditional types of definitions can help clarify meaning for the audience/reader of
your definition speech/essay:
Analysis: Divide the subject into parts and define each part separately.
Classification: According to dictionary definitions, what classes does the subject belong to?
Comparison: The unfamiliar may be defined by showing its likeness to the familiar or its difference
from it.
Details: What are the physical characteristics, traditional thoughts, and other distinguishing attributes
that describe the subject of the speech/paper?
Examples and Incidents: Narrate illustrations that can clarify a group, theory, or object.
Negation: Mention what it is not in order to clear the ground for what it is.
Origins and Causes: Where did the subject come from? What is the background information? What is
the history of the subject?
Results, Effects, and Uses: Discuss the consequences and uses of the subject.
Definition Speech/Essay Brainstorming Questions:
To write a strong definition speech/essay, answer the following questions and be as specific as you can, use interesting
definitions, and vivid and accurate details:
1. What is the essential nature or purpose of the thing I am defining?
2. What are its qualities?
3. How does it work?
4. How is it different from others like it?
5. Why does my audience need to know about it?
Sample Definition Essay
What is This Thing Called Love?
A wise man once said that love is a wonderful thing. Although this statement leaves sparse room for argument, it
does little to define what love is beyond the vague realm of wonderful. It is my duty as a devout romantic to embark
upon the seemingly difficult task of defining love by looking at the history, explaining what love is not, and
examining the uses of love and the results of that usage.
(Origin and Causes)
The origin of the word is probably the most logical place to start. As with many words in the English language, love
is a derivative of the Latin word "causemajoraproblemus" which means "You're miserable when you got it and
miserable when you don't." The word was created to explain the biological phenomenon that existed when certain
individuals came into contact with each other and either remained together or went about their lives separately.
Regardless of the outcome, the relationship was usuallycharacteristic of throat lumps, knotted stomaches, weak
knees, temporary loss of language, sweaty palms, dizzyness, sneezing, and occasional nausea. Belligerent insanity
also resulted. History clearly illustrates this. Can we ever forget the face that launched a thousand ships? Federally
expressingVan Gogh's ear? The construction of Le Tour Eiffel? All of these were results of love and love lost.
Star-crossed lovers have stated that love is not hand nor foot nor any part belonging to a man. Matrimonial
ceremonies also claim that love is not jealous or boastful. Let it be stated here that love also is not a gourmet dish, a
domesticated animal, or a latest trend. Love is not a strategic defense mechanism nor the best kept secret at the
Pentagon. Love is not another seasoning to bottle and stick on the dust-lined shelves of the spice rack. Love is not to
be confused with adhesive tape.
Instead, love is a great counterpart to late, evening thunder storms on hot July nights. Love goes well with cold pizza
on picnic blankets. Love is cold, wet sand between bare toes. Love is a capitalistic sell-all for novels, Top-40 pop
songs, summer movies, and greeting cards.
In its simplest terms, love is a four-letter word. Much like other words of similar letter make up, when expressed it
can evoke laughter, pleasure, pain, anger, and virtually any wave of reaction. Love also can be confused with
feelings of indigestion and gas. Houses have been built, burned, and banished because of love.
A definition speech/essay defines a word, term, or concept in depth by providing a personal commentary on what the
specific subject means.
Most physical objects have a definition about which most people agree.
Most people will agree on what trees, windows, computers, and pencils are in general.
These objects all have specific physical properties that most people can agree on through the
use of their physical senses.
However, abstract terms, such as love, pain, or patriotism, have different meanings for different individuals
since such terms play on people’s feelings more than their physical senses.
The definition speech/essay provides a personal, extended definition of such terms by linking or comparing
the term to a previous definition and by illustrating how that term should be applied.
A few suggestions for definition speeches/essays:
1. Write a speech/essay defining a food--but include a thesis statement that paints a very favorable portrait of a
much-maligned food (for example, Spam or brussel sprouts) or a very negative picture of a popular food (for
example, chocolate or ice cream).
2. Write a speech/essay in which you define burden at a personal level, by giving examples of the kinds of
things you consider burdens. You might want to develop your definition speech/essay with comparison and
contrast, exploring the differences between a burden and a responsibility.
3. Write a speech/essay in which you define a family role, for example, the role of a stepmother. Make sure to
include the duties of this person.
Setting up the definition speech/essay:
Select a subject carefully.
Since definition speeches/essays are personal in nature, select your subject based on your own
need to clarify the term.
For example, if you feel that the word marriage should be defined in a limited manner, that
term would make a good subject for a definition essay.
Perhaps as a student, you want to define what the term popular means from your point of
Select a term or subject that you know well enough so that you can provide specific examples to
illustrate your definition.
For example, if you aren’t familiar with the term platonic love, don’t attempt to define it in an
extended essay.
The subject of the essay must be familiar enough to you that you can readily supply specific
Don’t select a subject either too broad or too narrow to fit the parameters of your essay.
 For example, the word hat may be too narrow for you to define in an extended essay.
 On the other hand, the term love may be too broad or general since pinning it down to a
single definition is very difficult.
Once you have selected a subject, outline your speech body/paper carefully before writing.
Outlining will help you determine the specific points you want to cover in the definition and point out where
you need examples.
Here are some suggestions for how to outline a definition essay/paper:
I. Introduction
A. Attention getter
1. You may want to include the traditional or dictionary definition here to provide a basis for
your personal definition.
2. You may want to open with a contradictory image to what would be your image to illustrate
that definition.
B. Thesis: State how you define the term. If you can write the definition using specific points, you will
find the definition easier to follow when writing the speech/paper.
II. Body
A. Background information:
1. Often unnecessary in this type of paper
2. However, you may need to provide some background about the term or your connection to the
B. Point one
1. The first part of your definition of the term.
2. Example to illustrate that point.
3. Analysis of how the example illustrates the point.
C. Point two
1. The second part of the definition of the term.
2. Example to illustrate that point.
3. Analysis of how the example illustrates the point.
D. Point three
1. The third part of the definition (if there is one)
2. Example to illustrate that point.
3. Analysis of how the example illustrates the point.
E. Point four, etc.
III. Conclusion
A. Review your definition’s main points
B. Closing attention getter
1. Sometimes a reference back to the opening attention-getter is a good way of unifying the
entire essay.
2. You may want to close with an explanation of how your definition has affected you.
Here is the outline for the attached sample definition paper on patriotism:
I. Introduction
A. Attention getter: Traditional definition of patriotism (as perceived in an image)
B. Thesis: Patriotism is speaking out when a person feels the country is right or wrong, voting,
campaigning, and respecting others.
II. Body
A. Speaking out when country is wrong
1. Vietnam
2. Slavery
3. Women’s right to vote
B. Speaking out when country is right
1. Afghanistan
2. Health care
C. Voting
1. Making a choice based on one’s needs
2. Being involved in the voting process
D. Campaigning
1. Finding a candidate who represents country’s needs
2. Barbara Boxer from California
E. Respecting others
1. Paying taxes.
2. Respecting others’ points of view
3. Arab-American prejudice after 9/11.
III. Conclusion
A. Review of patriot as protestor, voter, and respectful citizen.
B. Closing attention getter: return to introduction's image of patriot
Writing the definition speech/essay:
A. Make sure that you have a good, specific thesis that tells readers just how you will define the term.
B. Follow your outline to remind yourself when you need examples and analysis of those examples.
1. Modify your outline when you think you need to.
2. Remember not to paragraph based on your outline's points.
C. Use good, specific examples to illustrate each point.
1. Examples allow readers to visualize how the definition can be applied.
2. You may need to do research to find good examples.
D. Provide good transitions to link all parts of the essay.
E. Have a good conclusion that brings the parts of the definition together and leaves audience
members/readers with an image of how the definition is applied.
F. For papers, proofread carefully.
Sample definition paper:
Sean Kasugan
English 1111
Dr. Phyllis Johnson
10 February 2005
American Patriots: Soldiers, Citizens, Voters
The United States is presently at war in Iraq and Afghanistan where American troops are fighting and
dying. At home, cars and homes display solid yellow or red, white, and blue ribbons that call for Americans to
"Support Our Troops." It is patriotic for Americans to support their daughters and sons fighting in a war, but
this patriotism does not mean that Americans must blindly support the decision to go to war. Being patriotic
means that Americans must do the opposite: they must question their government. Questioning the government,
voting, and respecting the rights of others are what make true patriots in a democratic society; blind following
of one's government creates dictatorships.
The United States government is not perfect, as evidenced by its history. For example, the government
sanctioned the institution of slavery, denied women the right to vote for nearly 150 years, and prolonged a war
in Vietnam that the government leaders knew they couldn't win. Fortunately for the United States, in each of
those cases, there were patriots that spoke out against what the United States was doing and brought about
change. Without the abolitionist movement in the early nineteenth century, slavery may have existed far longer
than it had already been allowed. Suffragettes from the late seventeenth century through 1920 gave women
political equality--at least on paper. In more recent times, the protests of the 1960s finally led the United States
to negotiate a peace long enough to get its troops out of Vietnam.
The above examples illustrate true patriotism. The government was wrong in its official positions, and the
people who opposed those positions were right. Had those right-minded people not openly voiced their
disapproval of what the government was doing, our history would not reflect the democratic principles it so
publicly espouses. For a democracy to work, its citizens must keep informed and vocally express their approval
and disapproval. The United States government should not proclaim that protestors are not patriotic. By their
very act of thinking independently from the government, they are being true patriots.
People who agree with a government's actions are patriots as well--so long as their agreements are based
on how they analyze what the government is doing and base their agreement on thought and not on blind
obedience. For example, patriotic proponents of the war in Afghanistan base their support on the need to
eliminate Al Qaeda and not on simply accepting that the war is correct because government leaders say it is.
These supporters for the war are doing so because they have analyzed why American troops are fighting there
and have decided that the government is right. Patriotism is based on analysis and reasoned thought; it is not
based on blind obedience.
Questioning the government is one part of the definition of an American patriot; a second part is taking
that analysis of the government and acting on it through voting. To put it simply, patriots vote. However, voting
for the American patriot is not simply casting ballots; it is knowing about the issues and then casting ballots. To
vote for Democrats or Republicans simply because the voter has always voted for that party or because the
voter's family has always voted for that party is not being patriotic; it is again being blindly obedient. Voting
requires knowledge of the candidates, knowledge of the issues, and ultimately an understanding of one's own
stand on the issues. For example, in 1948, Thomas Dewey was predicted by nearly all news services to win the
Presidential election over incumbent Harry Truman. However, when election day was over, Truman had won by
over 2 million votes. What the news services didn't realize was that the United States was full of patriotic
Americans who thought about their votes and didn't simply follow trends. Truman, a supporter of stronger civil
rights legislation and fighting communism in Korea, won because Americans thought about those issues and
voted accordingly (Blum et al. 772).
Voting is a patriotic act, but most patriots go beyond voting and actively participate in the elections by
campaigning for preferred candidates or issues. Active involvement in elections by patriotic voters creates a
stronger base for candidates, who otherwise have only themselves and paid staff on which to depend. American
patriots are people who work for their country's good based on what they see as good for their country. Thus,
when California citizens campaigned for Barbara Boxer in 1992 for the United States Senate, they were actively
working for increased funding for crime prevention and paramedic training, two issues about which Boxer has
been actively vocal (“The Issues”). These people were telling the rest of California that they believed that
Boxer's work for these issues would make a better California and United States. Just as patriotic soldiers
volunteered for the Continental Army in 1774 to create a new nation that would better their lives, so did
patriotic soldier voters volunteer for the Boxer campaign in 1992 to create a better world. Patriots are voters and
Lastly, and most importantly, patriots respect the rights of others and demonstrate by actively contributing
to the equal rights of all Americans. One specific action that patriots perform is willingly paying taxes. Without
tax income, the national, state, and local governments would not be able to function. People would go
uneducated, hungry, and sick in a world without police protection, good roads, schools, and government-funded
health care for those citizens who cannot afford it. Patriots may wish that they could have the tax money in their
own pockets, but patriots also realize that this tax money is necessary for a country that must meet the needs of
all its citizens. Paying taxes shows respect for the government and for its citizens through being an active
contribution to a stable, democratic society.
Another specific patriotic action is showing respect for other cultures. Following the Al Qaeda terrorist
attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, reports came in of individual attacks on Muslims and
people of Arab heritage in the United States. A Pakistani store owner was killed in Dallas; two EgyptianAmericans were killed in separate incidents in California; and in Gary, Indiana, a man turned an assault rifle on
an Yemeni-born United States citizen. In what is probably the worst incident, 300 Americans marched in
Chicago in an anti-Arab parade, with one man proclaiming, “‘I’m proud to be an American, and I hate Arabs,
and I always have’” (Robinson). Well, patriotic Americans are not proud of him. An American patriot
understands that in a democratic nation, an entire group is not judged by the actions of a few individuals. If a
group were to be judged by a few individuals, then all Caucasian, Christian Americans should be hated because
the bombers at the Oklahoma Federal building were white, Christian, American citizens.
The traditional picture of an American patriot is of a soldier in uniform, proudly carrying the American
flag and a rifle. But that picture falls seriously short of the true picture of an American patriot. The true picture
would show millions of people, of all races and heritage, some carrying protest signs, some handing out
campaign literature, and everyone carrying a ballot.
Works Cited
Blum, John M., et al. The National Experience: A History of the United States.
5th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
"The Issues." Official Website of U. S. Senator Barbara Boxer. 2005. 1 Feb. 2005
Robinson, B. A. “Aftermath of the 9-11 Terrorist Attack: Attacks on Muslims.” Religious 2001. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 1 Feb. 2005
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