08 July 2017

"The Elements of Eloquence"

If you're going to write a book, and the chapter titles will include: "Polyptoton," "Aposiopesis," "Merism," "Hyperbaton," "Anadiplosis," "Diacope," "Hendiadys," "Epistrophe," "Tricolon," "Epizeuxis," "Syllepsis," "Enallage," "Zeugma," "Chiasmus," "Catachresis," "Litotes," "Metonymy," "Pleonasm," "Epanalepsis," and even "Scesis Onomaton," then you'd better have excellent skills as a wordsmith, because your potential audience will undoubtedly be wary of what is expected to be boring material.

Fortunately this author (Mark Forsyth) has those skills, and he uses the rhetorical devices to explain them.  Here is a brief excerpt from the chapter on pleonasm:
"Pleonasm is the use of unneeded words that are superfluous and unnecessary in a sentence that doesn't require them.  It's repeating the same thing again twice, and it annoys and irritates people...

People who think like this lead terrible lives.  They have never married, simply because they couldn't bear to hear the words:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony.
They can't enjoy Hamlet because of the unnecessary "that" in "To be or not to be, that is the question."
An interesting anecdote in the chapter on merism:
"In the medieval marriage service "sickness and health" were followed by: "to be bonny and buxom, in bed and at board, till death do us part."... How could a wife guarantee that she would be buxom?... the word buxom has changed in meaning over the years.  The first citation in the OED comes from the twelfth century and is defined as "Obedient; pliant; compliant, tractable."  The sense then changed to happy, then to healthy, and thence to plump.
Re hyperbaton:
"The importance of English word order is also the reason that the idea that you can't end a sentence with a preposition is utter hogwash.  In fact, it would be utter hogwash anyway, and anyone who claims that you can't end a sentence with up, should be told up to shut.  It is, as Shakespeare put it, such stuff as dreams are made on, but it's one of those silly English beliefs that flesh is heir to."
Re periodic sentences:
John of Gaunt's death scene in Richard II, which begins with "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle..." adds nineteen additional lines before presenting the main verb: "...Is now leased out..."
We all know someone who uses parataxis:
"Parataxis is like this.  It's good, plain English.  It's one sentence.  Then it's another sentence.  It's direct.  It's farmer's English.  You don't want to buy my cattle.  They're good cattle.  You don't know cattle.  I'm going to have a drink.  Then I'm going to break your jaw.  I'm a paratactic farmer.  My cattle are the best in England."

There's nothing wrong with parataxis.  It's good, simple, clean, plain-living, hard-working, up-bright-and-early English.  Wham.  Bam.  Thank you, ma'am."
Re versification:
In addition to the familiar iamb (te-TUM), trochee (Tumty), anapaest (te-te-TUM), and dactyl (TUM-te-ty) there are "strange feet like the choriamb (TUM-te-te-TUM) and the molossus (TUM! TUM! TUM!).  But these strange ones have never really worked well in English, apart from the amphibrach (te-TUM-te), which is the basis of the limerick: "There was a young man from Calcutta..."
Is this comment true or is it playful nonsense?  "The only reason that T.S. Eliot insisted on the middle initial was that he was panfully aware of what his name would have been without it, backwards." For a short while he became so paranoid that he decided to use his middle name instead and introduced himself as T Stearns Eliot.  The phase did not last, but it's probably why his first great poem was called "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Re congeries:
"Shakespeare loved lists, especially when he was insulting people: "... you starveling, you wolf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-fish!  O for breath to utter what is like thee!  You tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bow-case; you vile standing-tuck..."

The technical name for a heap of insults is bdelygmia, and the best thing about a good bdelygmia (aside from the pronunciation: no letter is silent) is that you don't even need to know what any of the words mean..."
By now you already know whether you'd enjoy reading this book or not.  I did.

Posted with a tip of the blogging hat to reader Paul Parkinson, who identified this book as the source of a quote in a previous TYWKIWDBI post.


  1. Jerry in and out of DallasJuly 8, 2017 at 12:15 PM

    I will read it, but it could be a long while: it's only the latest entry to several pages of a list of must-read books.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. It gets a wee bit heavy in places but then -boom- you get something extraordinary and it keeps you going.

  3. Isn't it "Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma'am."?

    1. I was typing too fast. Fixed. Tx for the heads-up.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...