As a former university instructor rhetoric (classical), your analysis of zelensky’s speech do clearly described how an intelligently structured speech that also uses vivid references —-is so moving and so appropriate. Thank you

Expand full comment

You’re too kind, Jim, and you operate at a higher level! I was impressed by the care that Zelinskyy took over his talk, and it paid off.

Expand full comment

Thanks, Jim, for a masterly analysis of this speech. One thing I noticed was the way in which he pointed at each word as he spoke. His text may have been broken down phonetically for emphasis. I have done the same when I’ve lectured in Italian or German. It helps with the flow of a foreign language, and it underscores, in this case, Zelinskyy’s concern with his message.

Expand full comment
Dec 26, 2022Liked by James Fallows

Seems like we are hovering over a constipated knot in history, the VZ speech being a prominent part of something with so many inputs that the immediate thrust outwards is anyone's guess. Branko Milanovic in http://glineq.blogspot.com/2022/12/four-historico-ideological-theories.html gives more than a hint that this current conflict is just one in a series, and nowhere near the last, of ethno-nationalist wars. Speeches and heroes will come and go and some of them will be unknowable figments.

@PTetlock hat-tipped a part of https://allaboutstevejobs.com/verbatim/interviews/playboy_1985.

"Now, what if we could capture Aristotle’s world view—the underlying principles of his world view? Then you could actually ask Aristotle a question."

Janet Haven in https://www.niemanlab.org/2022/12/chatgpt-and-the-future-of-trust/ nailed the obvious danger from AI-generated speech & images.

Hannah Arendt in 'The Human Condition' warned about us losing the ability to resist the push away from human speech.

"... the situation created by the sciences is of great political significance. Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being. If we would follow the advice, so frequently urged upon us, to adjust our cultural attitudes to the present status of scientific achievement, we would in all earnest adopt a way of life in which speech is no longer meaningful. For the sciences today have been forced to adopt a “‘language”’ of mathematical symbols which, though it was originally meant only as an abbreviation for spoken statements, now contains statements that in no way can be translated back into speech."

The podium & the theatrical occasion will keep us on track, whatever the destiny for humanity, if we are not to be trapped in a video game.

Expand full comment

Any likelihood this analysis could be translated into Ukrainian & Russian?

Expand full comment

A wonderful analysis. Thank you.

Also agree with the comments below about the effectiveness of reading the script vs. using a teleprompter. Conventional wisdom, at least as I used to know it, dictates never reading a speech word-for-word from manuscript. It was an astute choice.

Expand full comment

I very much appreciate your take on the speech, and that you affirmed my sense that it was a terrific speech. I feel that the Ukrainians' fight is ours as well, because I think their victory will be a critical strike in favor of Democracy worldwide. (I now capitalize Democracy, as it's that important--something I started doing because I felt I needed to. I'm happy to pay extra taxes to help their war effort, and if I were young, I'd probably do something more personal. The only other war in my lifetime where I felt so strongly was the Six Day War.)

Expand full comment
Dec 24, 2022·edited Dec 25, 2022Liked by James Fallows

"As President Zelensky himself would put it, Merry Christmas greetings to you."

[and, Happy Chanukah to all! in Ukrainian: щаслива Ханука (shchaslyva Khanuka) ]

arcana: *


" Merry Christmas vs Happy Christmas: The origins of both greetings and how Merry became the more common prefix "

Christmas celebrators are always torn whether to wish someone a Merry or a Happy Christmas

But how did we get to a situation where these two phrases are so intertwined that many people don’t know which is the ‘correct’ way of wishing cheerful festivities?

To begin this examination, we need to go back to see when these terms were first recorded in writing.

It may be surprising to learn that it’s 'Merry Christmas' that has the earliest known use, appearing in writing in the early 1500s.

The earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from a December 22, 1534, letter by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, to Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII, where he writes: "And this our Lord God send you a Merry Christmas, and a comfortable, to your heart’s desire."

The term ‘merry’ originally simply meant pleasing or delightful; that was until the 14th century when it became to mean boisterous or tipsy.

Interestingly, at this same time ‘happy’ meant lucky or fortunate - it didn't take on the sense of being pleased or contented until a century later.

From the moment of Merry Christmas' first use, almost two centuries past by before the earliest Oxford example of its alternative greeting - from a 1707 memoir by Frances Shaftoe - is found. This said: “I wish you a Happy Christmas and New Year.”

It’s worth noting that earlier instances of this term have been discovered, including a 1688 letter by George Wheler, a canon of Durham Cathedral, to George Hicks, Dean of Worcester where he said: “I send you this to express my hearty wishes, that you may enjoy a Happy Christmas and New Year.”

....It could be argued that the royal family have played a significant role in returning and keeping 'Happy Christmas' in the common English language, reflecting the idea that 'happy' took on a higher class connotation than 'merry', which was associated with the rowdiness of the lower classes.

They adopted 'Happy Christmas' as their preferred greeting, starting with King George V’s 1932 Christmas radio message, written by Rudyard Kipling, and others took note, with Queen Elizabeth II continuing to wish her citizens a 'Happy Christmas', rather than a 'merry' one in her Christmas broadcast.

Her Royal Highness' 2020 speech concluded: “Let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love and, above all, hope guide us in the times ahead. It is in that spirit that I wish you a very Happy Christmas.”

* "secrets or mysteries: his knowledge of federal budget arcana is legendary." online dictionary

see wonderful full article at link: Only readers of a certain age will have the attention span to read this very typically English, very long and detailed magazine article. Americans of a certain youth seem no longer to have the attention span of a gnat, when it comes to reading delightfully long media articles found in the intellectual UK. ;)

Expand full comment
Dec 24, 2022·edited Dec 24, 2022

That Zelensky read a printed speech, rather than from a teleprompter, enhanced the power of his presentation. Somehow it added to his authenticity and made the message more compelling. My Italian born, school teacher husband noted Zelensky was placing his finger beneath lines of text as he read them, which is what schoolchildren do when learning to read. Nothing felt staged, and so much passion!

Expand full comment

The weaving of the celebration of Hanukkah with Christmas was subtly but beautifully done - using the light of the candles to be able to share Christmas celebrations together. The candle light symbolizing shared faith (not in a god - each has their own idea of god) “in ourselves” - the solidarity of hope and resilience, which Hanukkah so aptly parallels.

It caught my breath when I heard him deliver it and went back to check if I’d heard it correctly. Yes indeed, an exquisite piece of writing. And a complex set of thoughts that represent the sort of state and society the Ukrainian leadership aspires to be building in the crucible of war.

On a sour note, of course the Tucker Carlsons were outraged that a Jew would mention Christmas so many times. Sometimes it’s enough to drive one to despair. As an antidote I just make another contribution to a Ukrainian aid organization, which perks me up again.

Expand full comment

Bless you for this, Mr. Fallows. I wept. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Expand full comment

As a former speechwriter, your insight into Mr. Zelensky's speech is inspired and extremely helpful; thank you. And thank you especially for the excellent description of the challenges of invoking the required passion and nuance when speaking in a non-native language.

I spent 3 years in Cairo teaching math to mostly Egyptian students; while all of the students had excellent English skills and were beyond fluency in English and usually several other languages, there were still peculiarities, like the common request, "Mr. Mischler, can you please open the air conditioner?" They wanted me to switch the AC on, of course; the concepts of "opening" and "switching on" clearly overlap in the Arabic language.

No matter how fluent, until and unless someone lives in a different country, speaking their language, for decades, there will always be differences in accent and in peculiarities like the one I mention. Mr. Zelensky knew exactly what he was doing here - as you say, he took a huge risk, but I agree that he hit a home run. I am fairly certain that his speech will be remembered for a very long time.

I am equally certain that those who sat on their hands during the more rousing moments of his speech will soon be forgotten.

Expand full comment

I had been hoping you would give your insights about his speech. Thank you! I found the speech moving, persuasive and inspiring; hopefully it had an impact on Congress.

Expand full comment

Jim, thanks for a superb analysis of a moving and masterful speech. I hope it has the desired effect. As for those Republicans who didn’t attend or who sat on their hands...well, we knew what we thought of them beforehand, for a multitude of reasons.

Expand full comment

I was awed by the inclusion of Saratoga in Zelensky's call outs to US history. I've thought since the beginning of Russia's invasion and US support of an independent Ukraine that the best analogy from our history was to the American Revolution. US independence would never had been achieved without French intervention, basically in support of its ongoing jostling with its British imperial rival, to which those uppity and idealistic American colonists were an irritant. Britain's failed invasion from Canada which collapsed ignominiously at Saratoga in 1777 didn't end the war; it took the French fleet off Yorktown four years later to do that. But the analogy seems brilliant. And yes, I doubt many modern day Americans have the background to appreciate the analogy. I wish we did, but am not sure it matters really.

Expand full comment
Dec 24, 2022·edited Dec 24, 2022

Thank you, Jim. I was not able to watch President Zelensky directly but will definitely return to a recorded version over the weekend...

That said, I already had a clear view of his endeavor as expressed below in my first substantive post on Post.news that I created before the announcement of the visit and his speech before Congress. In short, I discovered by chance the recent publication of his other speeches while at the bookstore on Wednesday afternoon and am pleased to recommend it alongside your meaningful annotation of his oration before the entire nation - and the world - last night.


Thank you.

Expand full comment