Winston Churchill, widely considered to be one of the greatest public speakers in the 20th century, actually suffered from a persistent (albeit mysterious) speech impediment that he tirelessly worked to overcome. However, historians and biographers heatedly disagree with respect to whether Churchill’s mysterious speech impediment was a lisp or a stutter. Many pieces written about Churchill during the 1920s and 1940s mentions Churchill’s ‘stutter’ in terms implying that it was a well-known characteristic. A picture of Churchill graces the homepage of The Stuttering Foundation of America’s website, as an example of a role model who successfully gained mastery over his stuttering. However, the Churchill Centre adamantly maintains that Churchill did not stutter, and claim that he merely had difficulty pronouncing the letter S and spoke with a slight lisp.
On November 17, 2002, The Baltimore Sun addressed this controversy, revealing evidence that Churchill had a lisp (like his father), and had consulted notable speech therapist, Sir. Felix Semon, in an effort to overcome his impediment. Dr. Semon is said to have told the young Churchill that he did not have a physiological defect that could be corrected, and that he must practice and persevere in order to gain mastery over his impediment. After evaluating Churchill, Dr. Semon is said to have commented, “I have just seen the most extraordinary young man I have ever met”.
Both The Stuttering Foundation and the Churchill Centre have a vested interest in promulgating their side of the story; the former does not want to lose their valuable pin-up boy, and the latter is invested in downplaying any of Churchill’s flaws as much as possible. However, in light of Churchill’s formidable accomplishments, I would hazard to say it really doesn’t matter…..
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