Hesitation, Equivocation & Pausing

Politics with its warts an all!

Unveiling the micro-world of political rhetoric and spin

Every day we are bombarded with political rhetoric in the form of interviews, debates and statements from our political leaders and commentators, on the television, radio and internet. Underlying this rhetoric is the micro-world of spoken discourse that we rarely get to see or explore. This micro-world consists of politicians and commentators hesitating, equivocating, pausing, and using all their rhetorical nounce to get their message across while presenting themselves in the best light and avoiding saying anything that might damage their face.

This book takes an in-depth look at this micro-world. It explores the spaces between utterances and words, and the gaps between turns and transitions. For each discourse event analysed from the recent British political calendar, the reader is presented with a detailed transcript of the discourse using an approach to studying dialogue known as Conversation Analysis. External links to recordings of the events also help the reader to listen simultaneously to the original discourse while the micro-world of political rhetoric and spin is unveiled.


Equivocation: the art of avoiding answering a question directly, especially one which might damage the politician’s face or the face of their party. Politicians are masters at this and will jump through all sorts of linguistic hoops and hurdles in order to avoid saying something which might appear as a negative headline in the media the following day or which might be quoted back at them adversely sometime in the future.

Theresa May, when did you realise that you got the wrong answer to the biggest question of our times in politics?

Jeremy Paxman

listen to the audio

Well, I’m tempted to ask you Jeremy what you … think… d’you mean … you’re talking about Brexit?

Theresa May


But equally, interviewers have become experts at asking questions which challenge the face of the politicians they are interviewing. These conflictual questions are specifically designed to put interviewees “on the spot” and cause maximum embarrassment. The simplest conflictual question you can ask is “have you stopped beating your spouse?” which you might like to ask your best friend sometime to see what reaction it provokes!


By transcribing discourse and effectively “freezing” the conversation, the micro-world of turn-taking, hesitation and pausing that is a natural part of any conversation is revealed.

The “Corbyn stare”, a rather dismissive eye gaze at a certain section of unruly MPS in the chamber, usually accompanied by a prolonged pause in his delivery

The Author

Dr Michael Cribb is Assistant Professor of English Language at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. He has published widely on applied linguistics and political discourse analysis. His other books include Slips of the Tongue from the Linguistic Graveyard and the sumptuous photo essay to be someone in a language. He lives in Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom.

The author before and after writing the book

It is only through the analysis of the little things in this micro-world that we can understand how and why interlocutors subconsciously react in the way they do and the significance of the whole.

Michael Cribb

“It is the little things which reveal the chapters of the heart”

Ellen G. White

All of British politics under the microscope

David Cameron

Jeremy Corbyn

John Bercow

View on Amazon

Includes free access to companion website

Over 100 links to audio, video, articles and House of Commons videos.

The game rolls on with interviewers never quite seeking genuine answers and politicians never quite yielding to genuine questions.

Michael Cribb

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