Book report #1 (2018)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase, by Mark Forsyth. Pub 2013

I found this book after seeing a Facebook post about the section on hyperbaton (defying the logical/grammatical order of words in a sentence). Hyperbaton covers three areas: prepositions (Shut up!), vowel order (tic-tac-toe), and word order (esp. adjectives and adjective-noun). This last one we all know but likely were never taught directly – it’s just such an ingrained part of the English language that we only recognize it when it’s broken. Adjective order follows this rule: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose, noun. In hyperbaton, you deliberately muck that up to make a phrase that gets attention (for better or worse (a merism and an antithesis)): large, blue sweater makes sense, but blue, large sweater sounds weird.

I was thrilled (because I am a word geek) to learn also the following:

  • tricolon – sentences or things in groups of three are linguistically impactful (think “good, bad, and ugly“). I have often wondered why catchphrases, mottos, and business methods and abbreviations are typically in threes. I do it all the time myself (my team motto is “science, timeliness, and respect” and my communication framework is “clear, concise, complete“), and it works, but I’ve never known why until now.
  • diacope – close repetition of a word in a sentence. Think “Bond, James Bond.” That’s much more memorable and impactful than “I’m James Bond”.
  • syllepsis – clever positioning of words to be efficient with verbs. “I was out of coffee and patience.”

I LOVE these little tricks in language, and so I loved this book. There are 51 elements of rhetoric covered here, each with a clear explanation and relevant examples. The purpose is to enable one to recognize these tricks to be able to appreciate the cleverness of the writer, and also to try to consider them (obliquely or deliberately) in one’s own writing or speech. As a singer, these are very useful, as they are everywhere in music and poetry; they help in looking for meaning and phrasing in lyrics, both to understand how/why they work and to be able to sing with meaning.

The book is thorough, funny, not at all difficult, entirely pedantic, and a great read and resource. When alone, I often read parts out loud, to enjoy hearing the language lilt delightfully (alliteration).

  1. A book about language
  2. A book by an author who’s younger than you (Mark Forsyth is 40).
  3. A book by a new-to-you author.

 

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