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Mark Forsyth’s Elements of Eloquence Part 2: The Cheat Sheet

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 –

Alliteration

Definition: All/many words in a sentence with the same letter.

Examples

The barge she basked in, like a burnished boat.

Burned by the banks, the back was beaten brass.  – Shakespeare

Book Review: Cats Galore, prominent cats throughout history
Catastrophic caricatures of cats in cloaks

Clever pun bombs – Polyptoton

Definition: The repeated use of one word, so that the word has multiple forms and meanings.

Example

Please,

Lend me your little ears to my pleas

Lend me a ray of cheer to my pleas – Bing Crosby.

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Lend me your little ears to my pleas

Using opposites for dramatic effect – Antithesis

Definition: First you mention one thing, then you mention another, in a rhythm.

Examples:

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

Lapland Over Four Splendid Seasons
A time to be born; and a time to die; a time to plant; and a time to pluck up that which has been plantedAn example of antithesis

 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)

Examples:

  • 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).
Every Picture Tells A Story: Lion Tamer for a touring circus at Ascot, 1936
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Behold these ferocious beasts! An example of merism

Like, you know? – The Blazon

Definition: Generally imbuing an inanimate or unusual object with the qualities of a person.

Examples:

  • 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.
Every Picture Tells A Story: A Lady and Her Pupper during the London Blitz (1940)
Thou hast doves eyes within thy locks. Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn. An example of the Blazon

Literary Acid Trips – Synaesthesia

Definition: Colours that are expressed as smells. Smells expressed as sounds. Sounds expressed as tastes.

Example

She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight – Raymond Chandler.

Cosy
Synaesthesia: Colours that are expressed as smells. Smells expressed as sounds. Sounds expressed as tastes.

Enigmatic Pauses…Aposiopesis

Definition: Using punctuation in sentences signifying a trailing off of thoughts with three dots….

Example

I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, the whole hill smelled like…victory. – Apocalypse Now.

Every Picture Tells A Story: War is Hell (1965)
Aposiopesis: 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.

Examples  

  • Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage – Richard Lovelace.
  • Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage. An example of hyperbaton
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. An example of hyperbaton

Yoda-style

Definition: Using the last word of one clause, as the first word of the next clause.

Example

Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh man not ashamed. – Yoda.

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.

Example

Every breath you take,

Every move you make,

Every bond you break,

Every step you take,

I’ll be watching you. – Sting.

Sting understood periodic sentences when he penned Every Breath You Take

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.

The novels of Jane Austen were filled with long-winded sentences or hypotaxis

Bond…James Bond – Emphasis Repetition

Definition: A word or phrase that is repeated after a brief interruption, for dramatic effect.

Examples:

  • 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.
Repetition makes words sink down deep

Rhetorical Questions?

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.

Examples:

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)

Every Picture Tells a Story: A brief and enchanting history of Australian milk bars
How hot is it? A form of rhetorical question meaning, it’s bloody hot in Australia.

Emo

Examples:

How could you?

What’s a girl to do?

Why go on?

Politically manipulative

Examples:

Would you trust this man with the health system?

Would you leave the economy to this Commie scum?

The difficult question immediately answered

Examples:

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.

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.

Examples:

  • 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
Every Picture Tells a Story: Berlin summertime in a bar by the Spree river
Summertime, and the living is easy. Copyright Content Catnip 2010

The oomph at the end

Definition: Ending each sentence or clause with the same word for emphasis.

Example:

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

Memorable triplets

Definition: Connecting three items together in a sentence.

Examples

Vini. Vidi. Vici – I came, I saw, I conquered – Julius Caesar

Sun, Sea and Sex.

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. 

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite- a memorable triplet that appeared on this propaganda poster from the French Revolution (Wikipedia)

Repeated affirmations

Definition: Repeating the same word or phrase again and again for dramatic effect.

Example:

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.

Another version of repetition but for full phrases or sentences not just words

Pun bonanza – Syllepsis

Definition: One word used in two incongruous ways in a sentence. Witty pun in a ‘look at me’ kind of way.

Example:  
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.

Examples 

  • 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.  
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. – Muhammed Ali. An example of an isocolon

Clever slang – Enallage

Definition: A phrase that stands out because of its unusual or deliberately incorrect grammar.

Examples:

  • Do not go gentle into that good night. – Dylan Thomas
  • Love me tender – Elvis
Love me tender, love me sweet – an example of an enallage or clever slang.

Paradox

Definition: Sentences with deep philosophical import that contract each other in meaning.

Examples:

  • 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.
For every cop to be a criminal and all the sinners saints. – The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil. An example of paradox

Mirrored word sentences – Chiasmus

Definition: Symmetry. Similar to a palindrome, but for the orders of words in sentences.

Examples:

  • 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.
Love connection together
Tea for two and two for tea. Me for you and you for me.An example of chiasmus

Crooning along to a blue moon – Assonance

Definition: Repeating a vowel sound in a phrase

Examples

  • Blue Moon
  • Deep Heat
  • As Happy as Larry
  • How Now Brown Cow?
  • Osh Kosh B’Gosh
Celestial ceilings and soaring skies in Poland
Blue Moon in Wawel Castle. – when we repeat a vowel sound in a phrase it makes it memorable

Down the rabbit hole of English – Catachresis

Definition: When a sentence is so startlingly wrong, it’s right

Examples

It became curiouser and curiouser – Alice in Wonderland. 

She lives on Love Street – The Doors

Mark Ryden's gloriously uncanny paintings
It became curiouser and curiouser – Alice in Wonderland. An example of catachresis or when a sentence is so wrong that is becomes right.

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
Can’t complain – the Aussie double negative

A non-physical connection – Metonymy  

Definition: Giving a personal quality to a large organisation or group of people.

Examples:

The Ministry of Health was caught red-faced last night

All eyes are on the government tonight

The Army stepped in

The Army stepped in an example of metonymy

ID-ing the body – Synecdoche

Definition: When a person becomes one of their body parts.

Example:

What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry. –  William Blake.

How to vanish in a sea of people | Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry. –  Synecdoche breaks down people into their various body parts

Snappy swaps – Transferred Epithet

Definition: An adjective is applied to the wrong noun in a sentence to make it memorable.

Examples

  • The nervous man smoked a cigarette > The man smoked a nervous cigarette.
  • The ploughman homeward plods his weary way.
A (hot) man smokes a nervous cigarettea transferred epithet applies the adjective to the wrong noun for full impact.

Used by boring writers – Pleonasm

Definition: The use of unneeded and superfluous words in sentences. Very irritating to read.

Example

I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

Travel: Meandering around the Mynydd Carningli neolithic hillfort
I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.Or how to craft a boring and long-winded sentence.

Circular phrases – Epanalepsis

Definition: A statement that implies both continuity and circularity.

Examples:

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.

Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen http://wp.me/p41CQf-ItW
The king is dead. Long live the king – A great example of a circular phrase.

Shit happens – Personification

Definition: Giving animation to an inanimate thing or group noun.

Examples

  • Work called, they want you to come in.
  • Money talks, bullshit walks. 
  • Shit happens.
Money talks, bullshit walks – an example of personification

Hyperbole

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.

Examples

  • 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.
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
When hell freezes overan imaginative way of saying never, ever, ever, ever

Dramatic wafts of brilliance – Prolepsis

Changing around pronouns in phrases for dramatic effect.

Example

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

Churches, Weeds, Wildflowers and Wonder
Out of a misty dream – Playing with pronouns or prolepsis.

A list of great things – Congeries

Definition: Listing out elements in a long sentence.

Example

The cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. – Shakespeare.

The cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. – Shakespeare.An example of an epic list that illustrates an even more remarkable whole.

Verb Removal – Scesis Onomaton

Definition: Sentences that have no verbs.

Examples

  • Space: the final frontier. – Star Trek
  • Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in the Lincoln’s Inn Hall. – Dickens.
Space: the final frontier. – Star Trek An example of verb removal

Anaphora

Definition: Starting each sentence with the same words

Example:

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

Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech is an example of anaphora

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…

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7 thoughts on “Mark Forsyth’s Elements of Eloquence Part 2: The Cheat Sheet

  1. That must have taken ages to put all this together. And pleased to see yoda made the final cut. Not so pleased to see ‘ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls’ being frowned upon- it’s a great opener lol

    1. Hehehe…yeah it did take ages. I did it more for my own benefit to refer back to as these rules are easy to forget otherwise, but luckily others find this guide useful too. Yoda is the master of strange and memorable grammar isn’t he. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls brings to mind dodgy magic tricks to me hehe

      1. Dodgy magic! Exactly!
        The only reason I put any thought at all into my own (half-arsed) book write ups — is to help me remember them, and it genuinely works. If anybody bothers to read them, then all the better. but that’s not a requirement!

    1. Yeah it’s amazing, definitely a good one to buy and have a reference book. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

  2. Fascinating and insightful! I love these linguistic journeys. I noticed most of these immediately capture the attention because of their eccentricity and originality. If one gets to one’s point sooner and using more eye-catching methods, it only makes the writing more effective (well, not always, but still).

    1. I know right! the weird and eccentric word combinations help them to stay in memory. I love how the examples here (taken from the book btw, not mine. I would have neither time nor genius to find them) they are so ingenious, so common, that they are like the bedrock of language… used everywhere! He is amazing Forsyth 😊

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