Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Elements of Eloquence

The Elements of Eloquence; its very title an example of the first chapter’s rhetoric, alliteration. This charming little book from the man who brought you The Etymologicon and The Horologicon reveals the secrets of all great poets (and songwriters) with tongue firmly in cheek. Whilst we all learned about alliteration at school, the rest of rhetoric has been thrown out with the bathwater.

Before the Romantics came along, the figures of rhetoric were studied extensively and used by the likes of Shakespeare to make some of the greatest lines in literary history. Shakespeare was not a genius, he just learned what makes words sound good and memorable. And that is where this book sets off, picking apart poems, songs and political speeches (but don’t worry, only tiny bits of them) and pointing out what technique makes them work. All in a friendly, and at times amusing, tone.

Whilst it’s a book that can be dipped into now and then, the chapter structure tricks you into reading more than you intended. There are 39 chapters, to deal with 39 figures of rhetoric. Each example ends with an example of the next term. So one chapter ends:

“Striking down and blind” is, by the way, an example of syllepsis.

And, of course, the next chapter is syllepsis so you think you might as well spend a few more minutes finding out what that is and next thing you know, it’s the middle of the night and you’ve finished the whole book.

I actually tried writing a review in poetry using all the techniques but it started to get a bit silly:

The Elements of Eloquence, an entertaining endeavour.
Book yourself in for a weekend alone with this book.
Read these words; read to be educated and read to chuckle.
I wonder…
Read, I tell you, read!


You see where that was going. But I did fit in alliteration, polyptoton, antithesis, aposiopesis and diacope. The personification in iambic pentameter didn’t make the cut… I’m not a natural at poetry but after reading this book, it’s become a lot easier to see why some poems, and quotes, work better than others.

One thing I did learn, it that I’ve been using ellipsis all wrong. I don’t think anyone noticed though.

If you enjoyed Mark Forsyth’s other books, you’re bound to enjoy this one and it’s the perfect gift for any word geeks. Although if you’ve got a PhD in English language, you may already know a lot of this, but I would hope it’s still got enough enjoyment factor to it. I think it could also have its place in the classroom. There should be room for learning to be fun too.

The Elements of Eloquence is published by Icon Books and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. If you'd like to have a go at some poetry, there's a chance to win a copy and some fridge poetry magnets over on Mark's Tumblr (closes 9th December 2013).

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Shelve next to: The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth + The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

4 comments:

  1. That sounds really interesting - especially since you say you kept reading a bit more and more. It's going on my wish list (and I assure you, not a lot is going on there these days as it's long enough!).

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  2. I love writing for my blog and I think it would be fun to get better at it. I'm about to read How to write short : word craft for fast times and I might pick this one up next :)

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    1. Well I don't think I'd implement any of these on my blog, I prefer just to ramble on. But it's interesting to see how frequently these techniques are used by people that aren't even aware of them.

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  3. I really think this should be a set book for school students. People are always complaining about young people's grammar, but correct grammar isn't really taught, and this could make them more eloquent writers and speakers. Plus it's easy to read.

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