Mark Forsyth is the witty and effervescent writer of several books on the history of language, etymology and linguistics. The Elements of Eloquence explains the timeless art of crafting memorable one liners. In other words, the rules of classical rhetoric.
The one thing I found a bit confusing was the strange, Greece and Latinate names for each of the rules of rhetoric. Each are a mouthful to pronounce and recall, and therefore are instantly forgettable (polyptoton, aposiopesis, diacope, hendiadys, epizeuxis). Even if the techniques and rules are rather important as methods of competent and memorable writing, if the names of the rules are redundant and meaningless, it makes it a challenge to actually make use of this book.
So much of the book is dedicated to swirling, purple and ornate descriptions of each rule, that the practical part of the rule. I.e. a clear definition and several great examples, seem to get lost amongst the rambling chatter.
I should emphasise though that this is an entertaining and funny book. Although sometimes it feels as though it’s trying way too hard to be funny, at the expense of giving the reader workable, practical and clear instructions for writing better. Perhaps this is me being pedantic here, a cheat sheet in the references would have done it.
Therefore, if you are a copywriter, journalist or editor and you need inspiration for creating a snappy speech, poem or headline, you will need to wade through a lot of funny but superfluous fluff to get to the meaty parts.
The rules of rhetoric are so amazing and valuable, I took it upon myself to cut the fluff out of this book and also rename the rules to make them meaningful and memorable. Perhaps the internet’s writers and bloggers will thank me because the nuts and bolts of this book are immensely useful. The 2nd part of this post will be a digest of the rules in ways you can use them. Stay tuned for part 2