12 Professional Speechwriting: Using Colorful Language in Your Speech

Lynn Meade

Man Writing

Antithesis is not only a revered literary device that only the best wield,
but it’s a rhetoric device some of the most famous speakers in history
have used to emphasize their points.
It’s rousing in a speech when you juxtapose
two opposites to show a contrasting effect that’s as wide as the ocean.
Prowriting Aid

Taking your speech to the next level means being intentional with each word. In this chapter, I will demonstrate how several different colorful language devices are used in speeches.  By carefully crafting your word choices, you can deliberately control the tone and emotion in your speech. I believe the best way for you to learn is to be saturated by great examples and then be challenged to use what you have learned in your own speeches. To get the most out of this chapter, take your time and read these examples out loud. Feel the emotion, get into the rhythm, let yourself experience the difference that these language devices make.

 

 

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds in neighboring words. When Emily Dickinson said, “The soul selects her own society,” she was using an alliteration. A well-used alliteration sounds pleasing and elevates your content. it helps emphasize certain words and can help create the mood. Read these examples of alliteration to understand how they operate.

Repeated D

President Mandela, we salute you, for you are a man that had a dream, a dream dedicated to desire, the desire to make the world a better place.
Tribute Speech to Nelson Mandela by Tanica van As, University of Arkanas

Repeated P

We have seen peace prevail in most places for a half century.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights by Hillary Clinton

And here’s the last part. It’s up to you to couple every protest with plans and policies, with organizing and mobilizing and voting.
Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You That You Are Too Angry, Commencement Speech by Michelle Obama

There are too many alliterations to count in this two-minute persuasive speech. I take that back, there are not too many to count–you should listen and try to count them. Take it as a challenge.

 

 

Repeated G

And after our first meeting, I realized that God uses good people to do great things.  Eulogy to Rosa Parks by Oprah Winfrey

You’ve got more role models, more road maps, more resources than the civil rights generation did. You’ve got more tools, technology and talents than my generation did. No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world.
Graduation Speech 2020 by Barack Obama

 

Parallel Construction 

The next rhetorical device is parallel construction. In short, it means to repeat the same word or phrase. If it occurs at the beginning, it is called an anaphora, if it occurs at the end, it is an epistrophe. These are the easiest of the advanced techniques to write and it has the application in the most places. It can be used in almost any type of speech.

Anaphora
Repeat the Beginning

Anaphora (to bring again) (an-NAF-ruh). An anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of sentences. The repetition of words creates a building sensation lending to a sense of importance. Anaphora helps create rhythm, gives emphasis, and boosts speech to a higher level.   Look at the following examples for how it can be used in various types of speeches.

Anaphora in Eulogy

He taught me
that I don’t always have to be the same as the crowd.
He taught me
that no matter what my passion is, I should follow it.
He taught me
that you can’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap,
you have to go get them.
Eulogy to Grandpa by Logan Dold.

Anaphora in Tribute Speech

Magic in one way or another
had a huge part to play in our childhood.
Maybe you thought you were a fairy princess
Maybe you believed in Santa Clause or the Tooth fairy
Maybe you were like me
and made “potions” in your bathroom sink.
Tribute to Harry Potter’s Influence on My Childhood by Blake Cole

Anaphora in Graduation Speech

It feels like just yesterday, you Casey, Kara, and I were playing stuck in the mud, hot lava upstairs in the game room, monopoly, and orange juice pong at the lake.
It feels like just yesterday, Casey was the first of us girls to get a pair of platform heels. Size 5, chunky, black, and we were dying to wear them, but we had to wait until it was our turn.

It feels like just yesterday, you were writing boy’s names in chalk on the driveway with little hearts around it, drooling over them because they were a ‘hunk a hunk a cheese.’
It feels like just yesterday, you were a sophomore in high school.
Graduation Speech to Her Little Sister by Kendall Cleveland

Anaphora in Persuasion Speech

Indifference elicits no response.
Indifference is not a response.
Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end.
And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.
The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.
The Perils of Indifference, Elie Wiesel

 

It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights by Hillary Clinton

Anaphora in Political Speech

Let there be justice for all.
Let there be peace for all.
Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all.
Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Address

Yes we can to justice and equality.
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can.
New Hampshire Speech by Barack Obama


If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child.
If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother.
If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
Democratic National Convention  Speech by Barack Obama


Senators, let me be clear:
We are more determined than our opponents, and we will keep fighting.
When bad actors try to use our site,
we will block them.
When content violates our policies,
we will take it down.
And when our opponents use new techniques,
we will share them so we can strengthen our collective efforts.

Opening Statement to Congress on Facebook Accountability by Sheryl Sandberg

 

Parallel Construction –Epistrophe
Repeat the Ending

Epistrophe (after stroke) (eh-PiSS-truh-FEE–rhymes–rhymes with apostrophe)  is the repetition of the same word or words at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. The repetition makes the lines more memorable. Depending on the execution, it can give a cadence to eh speak and makes the speech feel dramatic. It is especially effective when the repeated word connects to the overall speech theme.

 

This is not, however, just America’s fight.
And what is at stake is not just America’s freedom.
This is the world’s fight.
This is civilization’s fight.
This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism,
tolerance and freedom.
Address to a Joint Session of Congress Following 9/11 Attacks by George Bush


For no government is better than the men who compose it,
and I want the best,
and we need the best,
and we deserve the best.

Wittenburg College Speech by John F. Kennedy


I would like to thank all the people who make the King’s Academy excellent

To the Board of Governors for the wisdom you bring, the prayers that you pray, and the vision you lay out for TKA, we thank you

For the administration, for the godly oversight you bring ot the school and for making the tough calls when needed, we thank you

To the faculty who give your all eachand every day laboring to provide us with an education and pushing us to do our best even on the days that we don’t want to learn all the while talking the extra time to buld relationships that for some will last a life time, we thank you

To the staff who worked tirelessly coordinating our lives and events while supporting us and the faculty, we thank you

Graduation Speech to The King’s Academy by Kyle Martin


This time last year, I found out that I was in the running for this title,
it was then I decided I wanted it,
so I worked hard for it,
I sacrificed for it,
and yes, I stressed for it,
and I got it. 

Graduation Speech to The King’s Academy by Kyle Martin


Market forces cannot educate us or equip us for this world of rapid technological and economic change.
We must do it together.
We cannot buy our way to a safe society.
We must work for it together.
We cannot purchase an option on whether we grow old. We must plan for it together.
We can’t protect the ordinary against the abuse of power by leaving them to it; we must protect each other. That is our insight. A belief in society.
Working together.
 Blackpool by Tony Blair

 

Watch this speech by Queen Rania Al Abdullah as she speaks before the United Nations. Notice her repeated use of parallel construction as she starts of her speech with, I wish…, I wish…, I wish…

Tricolon–Repeat it three times.

Omne Trium Perfectum means everything that comes in threes is perfect. Humans love threes. In our culture, three provides a sense of the whole, complete, roundness.  The rule of threes suggests that ideas presented in threes are easier to remember, more interesting, and more enjoyable. The three could mean have three main points of the three could mean have the items to a sentence. It could also mean explaining something in three different ways.

Also discussed in the chapter on speech organization

 

The time for healing the wounds has come
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.
Inaugural Address by Nelson Mandela


The flame would be lit.
The fight would be won.
The spirit would be affirmed.
Eulogy to Muhammad Ali by Bill Clinton


And when the night grows dark,
When injustice weighs heavy on our hearts,
When our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach,
Let us think of Madiba
Barack Obama Memorial to Nelson Mandela

 

 

Personification: 

A personification gives abstractions and inanimate objects human qualities. These qualities may be physical, spiritual, or emotional qualities. The easiest example I can think of is the saying, “My computer hates me! I know it is out to get me because it acts up every time, I have an important paper due.” A computer is not alive. A computer cannot hate. Look at these speech examples for how personification is used in a variety of contexts. 

 

My father taught himself how to read, taught himself how to write, decided in the midst of Jim Crowism, as America was breathing the last gasp of the Civil War, my father decided he was going to stand and be a man, not a black man, not a brown man, not a white man, but a man. The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout Will Change Your Life -Graduation Speech by  Rick Rigsby. 


It’s [COVID-19] one of these scenarios which we have been warning against for a couple of weeks already — that countries have to be prepared for the virus literally knocking at their door. Christian Lindmeier, Feb 2020 WHO Press Briefing


To the fans in Chicago, St. Louis, and Atlanta, I wanna say ‘thank you’ for your support. Your chanting of ‘B-r-u-u-u-c-e’ as I entered the game always gave me chills. I wish I could trot out there and get that feeling again, but Father Time has caught up with me. First, he took my arm, then he took my hair, then he took the color from my beard. But he cannot take the great friendships and memories I have from being a baseball player. Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Address, Bruce Sutter.

 

 

Antithesis

The Klingon in Star Trek said it best, “It’s better to die on our feet than to live on our knees.” This is an excellent example of an antithesis.  An antithesis is the pairing of opposites in a parallel arrangement. To be an antithesis, there need to be two contrasting ideas. It is not enough that the ideas are opposite, they must also be intentionally juxtaposed in a balanced form. In my opinion, this is the highest form of rhetorical device. Effectively writing and using the antithesis will put you in league with the masters!

Let’s start off by looking at some famous examples. Probably the most famous of all was uttered by Neil Armstrong when he said, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for all mankind.” Talk about quotable!   A well-written antithesis rolls off the tongue and begs people to nod and gasp a little. That is just what happens when famous speakers use them and it is also what happens when my students use them in class. Look at these examples for inspiration.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of
being a beginner again less sure about everything.
Commencement to Stanford by Steve Jobs


And when I say, “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” I really don’t know if that’s true. I’m just making a conscious choice to perceive challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way. You’ll come up with your own style. That’s part of the fun.
Graduation Speech, Jim Carrey


There is nothing wrong with America
that cannot be cured by what is right with America.
First Inaugural Address by Bill Clinton

 


We think we know what we want
but we often have no idea what we need.
USC School of Dramatic Arts Commencement by Kristin Bell


If you want to be really impressed, check out four antitheses in a row

We find ourselves rich in goods
but ragged in spirit,
reaching with magnificent precision for the moon
but falling into raucous discord on earth.
We are caught in war,
wanting peace.
We’re torn by division,
wanting unity.

First Inaugural Address, Richard Nixon


Watch my students in action as they master the antithesis in eulogy speeches

A woman whose spirit was always soaring
even when her feet were planted firmly on the ground.
Kayla Cross, Eulogy for her grandmother who was a pilot. University of Arkansas


I realize that it was never about your flower garden.
It was really about tending to the things of the heart
Tasha Smith, Tribute to Grandma. University of Arkansas


Recipe for a Powerful Antithesis

A. Statements that are Opposites

The first ingredient of an antithesis is opposites. I find it easiest to see the opposites by creating a box like this.

cannot help many who are poor
save few who are rich

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,
how can they save the few who are rich. John Kennedy

live together brothers
perish together fools

We must learn to live together as brothers
or perish together as fools. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 B. Evenly Balanced 

Ronald Carpenter suggests drawing a teeter-tooter and putting words on either side to see if they are balanced. The phrases should be closely balanced in terms of how many beats are on each side. Let us look at an example.

I am not a perfect servant.
I am a public servant
doing my best against the odds.
Jesse Jackson

A teeter totter with words balanced on either side.

Let us accept his challenge, not as grim duty, but as an exciting challenge.
Richard Nixon, Presidential nomination acceptance speech.

A teeter totter with words balanced on either side.

He was the early bird
and I was the night owl.
Eulogy to Kobe Bryant by Vanessa Bryant

A teeter totter with words balanced on either side.

 

 

Consider Bill Clinton’s acceptance address to the 1992 Democratic Convention. “And yet just as we have won the cold war abroad, we are losing the battles for economic opportunity and social justice here at home. While this sentence has opposites, it does not have balance. As Ronald Carpenter suggests “a simple change would have made it not only opposite, but balanced: “We have won the cold ware for political democracy abroad but are losing the heated battle for economic opportunity at home.” A little bit of balancing made a good statement great.

Here is one more example that improves with a little fix. This is George Bush’s Graduation speech at West Point.

We’re determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on one hand and of overwhelming power on the other.

A simple addition of three words, “and a symbol,” on the second phrase takes this good sentence and gives it balance:

We’re determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on one hand and a symbol of overwhelming power on the other.

Go back and read those examples again to feel the difference.  Now, read Martin Luther King Jr’s famous quote and notice that it has both a pairing of opposites and balance.

I have a dream that my four little children
will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.

And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from.

Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another.
Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth.
Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world,
but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

President Obama Eulogy for John Lewis

 

Can You Identify the Antithesis that is Opposite and Balanced?

 

Which of the following antithesis has the most symmetry from balancing opposites?

A. After this initial defeat, we seek ultimate peace

B. After this defeat, we seek victory and ultimate peace.

C. After this initial defeat in war, we seek ultimate victory in peace.

D. After an initial defeat, we seek ultimate peace.

E. After defeat in war, we seek ultimate victory and lasting peace.

From Choosing Powerful Words: Eloquence That Works.
The correct answer is C.

 

C. End the Antithesis with the Positive Statement

You should have a pairing of opposites that are evenly balanced, but you can really impact an audience by the order of the opposites. Listeners will pay the most attention to the last word in the antithesis, if you want it dark, end in a heavy word, if you want it hopeful, end in a positive word. Most of the time, you want to end with a positive word. Look at the difference between these two, which one sounds better? One ends in darkness and the other ends with a candle.

When other people cursed the darkness, she lit a candle.

She lit a candle when other people cursed the darkness.

 

Yes, of course, it sounds better to end with, “she lit a candle.” Always try to end on the upbeat.

D. Use as Few Words as Possible.

So now we have a pairing of opposites that are evenly balanced that end with the positive and now we want to add economy of words. Say the same thing with as few words as possible.

Because life doesn’t happen to you,
it happens for you.
Maharishi International University Commencement by Jim Carrey.  

A real dream is something that not only hangs on to you
but you will hang onto it.
Steven Spielberg, Some Good News Graduation

 

Test Your Skills
There are five antitheses and one parallel construction in this speech, can you find them all?

Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend.
He has served our country with honor and courage.
But we don’t need four more years … of the last eight years.
More economic stagnation … and less affordable healthcare.
More high gas prices … and less alternative energy.
More jobs getting shipped overseas … and fewer jobs created here.
More skyrocketing debt … home foreclosures … and mounting bills that are crushing our middle-class families.
More war … less diplomacy.
More of a government where the privileged come first … and everyone else comes last.

Democratic National Convention by Hillary Clinton

 

 

 

Key Takeaways

Remember This!

  • Using rhetorical devices, colorful language, in your speech can elevate your speech writing, create impact, produce rhythm, and help the audience remember your message. There are numerous devices that are effective in speech.
  • Alliteration-Repeat initial sounds of words.
  • Parallel Construction–Repeat words or phrases at the beginning or end.
    • Anaphora–Repeat words or phrases at the beginning.
    • Epistrophe–Repeat words or phrases at the end.
  • Personification–Giving innate things human characteristics.
  • Tricolon–Make lists or statements in threes.
  • Antithesis–Pairing of opposite phrases in parallel sentences.

 

Side Note: I have tried to include speech samples from various cultures, various people groups, and various political leanings. I purposefully chose speeches that represent a variety of topics to show all the different ways these speech devices are used. You may not agree with the point of view of some of the speakers (there are some of them I do not agree with), but that doesn’t keep us from respecting their ability to construct a good speech. 

References

Abdullah, R.A. (2009). UNRWA is a way of life. It is a way of living. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaqwxUFdU9w Standard YouTube License.

AP (2019). Armstong’s famous “one small step’ quote-explained. https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/07/13/armstrongs-famous-one-small-step-quote-explained/

Bell, K. (2019). USC School of Dramatic Arts Commencement. https://singjupost.com/kristen-bells-commencement-speech-2019-at-usc-full-transcript/

Blair, T. (1994). Leader’s Speech, Blackpool. http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=200

Bryant, V, (2020). Eulogy to Kobe Bryant. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/kobe-bryant-memorial-vanessa-bryant-s-full-eulogy-kobe-gianna-n1142176

Carey, J. (2014). Maharishi International University Commencement by Jim Carrey https://www.miu.edu/graduation-2014 Standard YouTube License.

Carpenter, R. H. (1999). Choosing Powerful Words. Boston, Allyn, and Bacon.

Cleveland, K. Graduate Speech to Sister. Student in Advanced Public Speaking at the University of Arkansas.

Clinton, B. (1993). First Inaugural Address of William J. Clinton. https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/clinton1.asp

Clinton, B. (2016). Bill Clinton’s Eulogy to Muhammad Ali, Louisville, KY. https://www.si.com/boxing/2016/06/13/muhammad-ali-funeral-bill-clinton-eulogy-speech

Clinton, H. (2008). Hillary Clinton’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Conventions/story?id=5663211&page=1

Clinton, H.  (1995). Women’s Rights are Human Rights. https://www.pbs.org/video/washington-week-hillary-clinton-declares-womens-rights-are-human-rights/

Cole, B. Tribute to Harry Potter’s Influence on My Childhood. Student in Advanced Public Speaking at the University of Arkansas.

Dold, L. Eulogy to Grandpa. Student in Advanced Public Speaking at the University of Arkansas.

Heston, C. (2008). From my cold dead hands. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ju4Gla2odw Standard YouTube License.

Jackson, J. (1984). Keynote speech, Democratic National Convention. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jessejackson1984dnc.htm

Jackson, S. Tribute to the Boat. Student in Advanced Public Speaking at the University of Arkansas.

Jobs, S. (2005). Steve Jobs Commencement to Stanford. https://news.stanford.edu/2005/06/14/jobs-061505/ Standard YouTube License.

Kennedy, J.F. (1960). Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Wittenburg College, Springfield Ohio. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/speech-senator-john-f-kennedy-wittenburg-college-stadium-springfield-ohio

King, M. (1963).  I have a dream. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

Lindmeier, C. (2020). WHO Press briefing.  https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/25/coronavirus-who-warns-virus-will-be-literally-knocking-at-the-door.html

Martin, K. (2019). Brutally honest valedictorian regrets being top of the class. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T76FdtKreNQ Standard YouTube License

Nixon, R. (1968). Presidential nomination acceptance challenge. http://www.4president.org/speeches/nixon1968acceptance.htm

Mandela, N. (1994). Nelson Mandela Inaugural Address. American Rhetoric. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/nelsonmandelainauguralspeech.htm

Obama, B. (2004). Speech at the Democratic National Convention. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/blackspeech/bobama.html

Obama, B. (2008). Barack Obama’s New Hampshire Primary Speech-Yes We Can. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barackobama/barackobamanewhampshireconcessionspeech.htm 

Obama, B. (2013). President Obama speaks at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SggOsfjsL0c Standard YouTube License.

Obama, B. (2020). Barack Obama delivers a powerful eulogy at John Lewis funeral. [Video]. YouTube.  https://youtu.be/KPeqVow2hKQ?t=2328 Standard YouTube License.

Obama, B. (2020). President Obama’s commencement speech, Dear class of 2020. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGEvASSaPyg Standard YouTube License.

Obama, M. (2020). Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re too angry. The Washington Post  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/07/michelle-obama-graduates-dont-ever-ever-let-anyone-tell-you-that-youre-too-angry/?arc404=true

Professor Buzzkill. (2017). Eleanor Roosevelt: It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. https://professorbuzzkill.com/qnq-21-churchill-americans-2/

ProWriting Aid. Antithesis. https://prowritingaid.com/Antithesis

Rigsby, R. (2017). The wisdom of a third-grade drop-out will change your life. Graduation speech. [Video]. YouTube.  https://youtu.be/Bg_Q7KYWG1g Standard YouTube License.

Sanberg, S. (2018). Opening statement to the Senate intelligence committee on Facebook and foreign influence. American Rhetoric. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/sherylsandbergcongressstatement.htm.

Spielberg, S. (2020).  Some Good News Graduation Advice. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-news/oprah-winfrey-steven-spielberg-give-graduates-advice-on-john-krasinskis-some-good-news-993413/

Sutter, B. (2013). Baseball Hall of Fame induction address. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/pyeYj_UJbn0  Standard YouTube License.

Van, As, T.  Tribute Speech to Nelson Mandela. Student in Advanced Public Speaking at the University of Arkansas.

Wiesel,  E. (1999). The perils of indifference. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpXmRiGst4k Standard YouTube License.

Winfrey, O. (2005)  Eulogy to Rosa Parks. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cfhtfNfIPE Standard YouTube License.

 

 

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Advanced Public Speaking (BETA) by Lynn Meade is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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