Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

Saturday School: Lesson #12 – Copiousness


Lesson #12 – Copiousness

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Successful speakers and writers know that if they hope to persuade on a given topic, win a legal argument, or move a person to action, in addition to arguing a reasonable point, they must also hold their audience’s attention—from beginning to end.

Said another way, an enlightened audience will only be so if it is also a delighted audience. Uninteresting writers and boring speakers create uninterested and unmotivated audiences.

To be interesting a writer or speaker must possess copiousness.

Derived from the Latin copia, copiousness literally means abundance. It refers to the stuff writing and speaking is made of. It is the material accumulated by the experiences of life, the fodder of failure, and the absorption of wisdom that makes the writer or speaker–and what he or she has to say–interesting and meaningful.

Copiousness is possessing a deep, refreshing pool of ideas, truths, and anecdotes from which to draw delightful, compelling arguments.

This is where the commonplace is helpful. In classical rhetoric a commonplace is a delightful maxim, a striking quote, or a morsel of knowledge that is often held in common by tribes and communities. The term is derived from the Latin phrase locis communis, literally common ground. One author captures this idea by defining a commonplace as “commonly-held worldview phrases circulated in every community.”1

Examples of familiar commonplaces are expressions like “spare the rod and spoil the child,” or “Mind your p’s and q’s.” The former is a maxim taken from the book of Proverbs (13:24), which is itself a kind of commonplace book compiled by Solomon, the ancient king of Israel. The latter is an English expression meaning to “mind one’s manners,” probably derived from the schoolhouse where children tended to mix up the p and the q, or from the pub where the patrons were reminded to watch their alcohol consumption, which came in pints and quarts.

Writers and rhetoricians have long collected delightful poems, important quotations, pithy proverbs, and striking phrases, and compiled them into a florilegium, or what is often referred to as a commonplace book. Collecting, studying, and reflecting on commonplaces is just one effective and practical means of cultivating copiousness. But it is not the only means. As the author of Fitting Words aptly observes, “Developing copiousness starts with maintaining an excellent education, reading the best books, and talking with wise men and women. It continues by expanding your life experiences.”2

So having copiousness is more than just possessing a huge pile of random facts and trivia one can reach into and toss out at a whim; rather, it is the idea of oneself being full—overflowing—with nuggets of truth and words of wisdom that are easily recognizable to one’s audience. Filling oneself with “true thoughts and wise words” will not happen automatically. It must be done on purpose.

Being too occupied with amusements to read books, too prideful to ask questions, or too lazy to think through difficult problems and important issues impedes the development of copiousness. As the author first quoted satirically quipped, “If you listen to stupid music, watch stupid movies, and read stupid books… well, congratulations, you’re stupid. And, being stupid, you have failed in the pursuit of effective communication at the outset.”3

Like a garden that must be tilled, planted, watered, and weeded, copiousness is cultivated—a work that takes time and effort. It is developed through the purposed, pleasant discipline of reading many good books, making a point of thinking about what is read, and collecting the best thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics.

Writing Exercise

Grab a blank notebook and start creating your own florilegium by finding and writing down twenty-five commonplaces in it.

Do you want to touch readers with your words, learn the craft of writing, or simply improve your writing skills from a classical perspective? Join me each week for Saturday (Writing) School. Every Saturday I’ll send a lesson to your inbox you can complete in an hour, or you can work on it at your leisure. It’s free!


1 Douglas Wilson and Nathan D. Wilson, The Rhetoric Companion: A Student’s Guide to Power in Persuasion(Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2011), 23.

2 James Nance, Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student (Moscow, Idaho: Roman Roads Media, 2016), 90.

3 Douglas Wilson and Nathan D. Wilson, The Rhetoric Companion: A Student’s Guide to Power in Persuasion (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2011), 24.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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