I recently I read the Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. This book is packed full of helpful tips on how to write better using timeless principles of persuasion. However, the rules of rhetoric in this book are hidden within reams of witty writing. So here are the rules, plain and simple with definitions and examples.
All able-bodied assholes ask about –
Definition: All/many words in a sentence with the same letter.
The barge she basked in, like a burnished boat.
Burned by the banks, the back was beaten brass. – Shakespeare
Clever pun bombs – Polyptoton
Definition: The repeated use of one word, so that the word has multiple forms and meanings.
Lend me your little ears to my pleas
Lend me a ray of cheer to my pleas – Bing Crosby.
Using opposites for dramatic effect – Antithesis
Definition: First you mention one thing, then you mention another, in a rhythm.
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
A time to be born; and a time to die; a time to plant; and a time to pluck up that which has been planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal. – The Bible
Waffling On – Merism
Definition: Instead of being precise in what you’re talking about, you waffle on about all of a thing’s constituent parts. (Generally, not a good thing)
- Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls (instead of everyone)
- For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health (instead of at all times throughout life).
Like, you know? – The Blazon
Definition: Generally imbuing an inanimate or unusual object with the qualities of a person.
- Lips like oranges – Clare Bowditch, Australian singer-songwriter.
- Thou hast doves eyes within thy locks. Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn – The Bible.
Literary Acid Trips – Synaesthesia
Definition: Colours that are expressed as smells. Smells expressed as sounds. Sounds expressed as tastes.
She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight – Raymond Chandler.
Definition: Using punctuation in sentences signifying a trailing off of thoughts with three dots….
I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, the whole hill smelled like…victory. – Apocalypse Now.
Word Order Remix – Hyperbaton
Definition: Putting words intentionally in the wrong order. The standard order should be: opinion – size – shape –
colour – origin – material – purpose – noun. Or vowel order should be I O A. Example: Bish Bash Bosh or tit for tat.
It either works or it doesn’t make sense.
- Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage – Richard Lovelace.
- Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
Definition: Using the last word of one clause, as the first word of the next clause.
Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh man not ashamed. – Yoda.
Saving the best clause for last – Periodic sentences
Definition: A long sentence or verse that has the clause or verb at the end to complete the syntax.
Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I’ll be watching you. – Sting.
The long and short of sentences
Hypotaxis: Ridiculously long sentences. Jane Austen loved them. (Not that great, harder to follow)
Example: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to unite… blah blah blah. – Jane Austen, Emma.
Parataxis: Plain English. Short sentences (more effective).
Example: And Jesus took the bread. And blessed it. And brake it. And gave it to his disciples and said ‘Take this, eat it. This is my body’. – The Bible.
Bond…James Bond – Emphasis Repetition
Definition: A word or phrase that is repeated after a brief interruption, for dramatic effect.
- Bond…James Bond – Ian Fleming.
- Fly my pretties…fly – The Wicked Witch of the West, Wizard of Oz.
- Love me, love me, say that you love me – Cardigans, Love Fool.
There are a few kinds of rhetorical questions:
The Australian question?
Definition: A couple of words are switched around to turn a statement into a question.
How hot is it? (meaning – it’s an absolute scorcher)
How fucked up is the economy? (meaning – it’s really fucked up).
How good is it? (meaning – it’s really good)
How could you?
What’s a girl to do?
Why go on?
Would you trust this man with the health system?
Would you leave the economy to this Commie scum?
The difficult question immediately answered
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. Victory. – Winston Churchill
Can I kick it? Yes you can. – A Tribe Called Quest.
Memorable word hiccups
Definition: Take an adjective and a noun, and change this to another adjective and another noun.
- I’m going to the noisy city > I’m going to the noise and the city.
- Summertime living is easy > Summertime, and the living is easy. – Ira Gershwin
The oomph at the end
Definition: Ending each sentence or clause with the same word for emphasis.
When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one. – Peter Handke
Definition: Connecting three items together in a sentence.
Vini. Vidi. Vici – I came, I saw, I conquered – Julius Caesar
Sun, Sea and Sex.
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.
Definition: Repeating the same word or phrase again and again for dramatic effect.
The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk.
Pun bonanza – Syllepsis
Definition: One word used in two incongruous ways in a sentence. Witty pun in a ‘look at me’ kind of way.
In my apartment, I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends – Dorothy Parker
The lamest and the best phrases on earth – Isocolon
Definition: Two clauses that are grammatically parallel and structurally the same.
- Roses are red, violets are blue.
- Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. – Muhammed Ali.
- Morning has broken, like the first morning / Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird – Cat Stevens.
Clever slang – Enallage
Definition: A phrase that stands out because of its unusual or deliberately incorrect grammar.
- Do not go gentle into that good night. – Dylan Thomas
- Love me tender – Elvis
Definition: Sentences with deep philosophical import that contract each other in meaning.
- For every cop to be a criminal and all the sinners saints. – The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.
- In this world, there are two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants. The other is getting it. – Oscar Wilde.
Mirrored word sentences – Chiasmus
Definition: Symmetry. Similar to a palindrome, but for the orders of words in sentences.
- Tea for two and two for tea. Me for you and you for me.
- The cat sat on the mat, and on the mat sat the cat.
Crooning along to a blue moon – Assonance
Definition: Repeating a vowel sound in a phrase
- Blue Moon
- Deep Heat
- As Happy as Larry
- How Now Brown Cow?
- Osh Kosh B’Gosh
Down the rabbit hole of English – Catachresis
Definition: When a sentence is so startlingly wrong, it’s right
It became curiouser and curiouser – Alice in Wonderland.
She lives on Love Street – The Doors
Australian small talk – Litotes
Definition: Affirming something in a phrase to deny its opposite. Closely related to the double negative. This is common in Australia and Britain.
- Can’t complain
- Not bad
- You’re not wrong
A non-physical connection – Metonymy
Definition: Giving a personal quality to a large organisation or group of people.
The Ministry of Health was caught red-faced last night
All eyes are on the government tonight
The Army stepped in
ID-ing the body – Synecdoche
Definition: When a person becomes one of their body parts.
What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry. – William Blake.
Snappy swaps – Transferred Epithet
Definition: An adjective is applied to the wrong noun in a sentence to make it memorable.
- The nervous man smoked a cigarette > The man smoked a nervous cigarette.
- The ploughman homeward plods his weary way.
Used by boring writers – Pleonasm
Definition: The use of unneeded and superfluous words in sentences. Very irritating to read.
I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
Circular phrases – Epanalepsis
Definition: A statement that implies both continuity and circularity.
The king is dead. Long live the king.
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh I believe in yesterday. – The Beatles.
Shit happens – Personification
Definition: Giving animation to an inanimate thing or group noun.
- Work called, they want you to come in.
- Money talks, bullshit walks.
- Shit happens.
We all know an exaggerator when we see one.
Needs no example.
Never ever ever – Adynaton
Definition: A poetic way of saying no, either in long or short form.
- Pigs might fly
- Hell will freeze over
- Pour away the ocean and sweep away the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good. – WH Auden.
Dramatic wafts of brilliance – Prolepsis
Changing around pronouns in phrases for dramatic effect.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses;
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream. – WH Auden
A list of great things – Congeries
Definition: Listing out elements in a long sentence.
The cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. – Shakespeare.
Verb Removal – Scesis Onomaton
Definition: Sentences that have no verbs.
- Space: the final frontier. – Star Trek
- Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in the Lincoln’s Inn Hall. – Dickens.
Definition: Starting each sentence with the same words
We shall fight on the beaches,
We shall fight on the landing grounds,
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
We shall fight in the hills;
We shall never surrender – Winston Churchill
I hope you enjoyed this epic journey into the classic rules of crafting memorable sentences. If you have made it this far, leave me a comment on what you think…