Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Elements of Eloquence: a very short review

Perhaps my favorite holiday gift this year was a delightful little book that my daughter gave me: The Elements of Eloquence

In high school (or perhaps earlier), we all learned about some basic techniques of language, such as simile, analogy, metaphor, alliteration, meter, and rhyme.

If these things interest you, then you might (or might not) be surprised and fascinated to learn that they are just the start of an entire menagerie of techniques, studied and refined for thousands of years.

For example, there is synaesthesia, where one sense is described in terms of another ("music that stinks to the ear").

Or hyperbaton, in which the word order is intentionally incorrect ("Take you to him I will").

Or diacope, in which the same word or phrase is repeated, after a brief interruption ("Bond. James Bond.")

Or assonance, which is sort of like rhyme, and sort of like alliteration, except it involves the vowels in the middle of words ("a stitch in time saves nine", "high as a kite").

And on, and on, and on.

In this marvelous little book, which I recommend to everyone who has any interest whatsoever in the way that language becomes literature, Forsyth dives deeply into all sorts of little-known, but extremely powerful, techniques like these.

In the same way that learning just a little bit about music helps you treasure Beethoven, or learning just a little bit about painting helps you be astounded by Rembrandt, learning just a little bit about these language tools will enrich the next essay you read.

And the next book. And the next poem. And the next play.

Which is an example of scesis onomaton, and of anaphora, and of tricolon.

Thank you, Mr. Forsyth!

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