For some time, I have been fascinated with the rhetoric devices. The rhetoric devices are the writing techniques that Greeks invented, Romans perfected, and Shakespeare put to real use.
According to Mark Forsyth, the writer of The Elements of Eloquence at the time Shakespeare was writing, the classical works on rhetoric were being dug out, translated, and adapted for use in English. Shakespeare learned them and learned them well. His prose and his one-liners become more striking because of the mastery he gained in these their use.
Figures of rhetoric (as they were known in Greek and Roman times) were formulas. The formula that you can learn from a book. Ancient Greeks went around, noting down the best and most memorable phrases they heard and worked out what the structures were, in much the same way we ask for a recipe when we eat a delicious meal.
But then they were abandoned.
Because they got a bad reputation. Rhetoric devices were related to persuasive writing, and people didn’t want to be persuaded.
But today, language is considered the most humane way of persuasion. We don’t need weapons to persuade. We rather need well-crafted arguments, essays, and articles.
A little while ago, I wrote an article The things they should have taught us in school on rhetoric devices ever since I wanted to write a series of articles on them, reviving them from the dead so that you can start using them in your everyday writing.
In today’s article, I am going to introduce three easy ones.
2. Anaphora and
1. Want to make a name or a phrase memorable, use alliteration.
Alliteration is when a series of words begin with the same consonant sound such as busy as a bee, good as gold, and dead as a doornail.
Alliteration is meant to be more than a tongue twister. It’s used to emphasize something important and to make it memorable.
Alliterations have been around for a long time. Nobody knows why we love to hear words that begin with the same letter, but we do, and we don’t forget them easily.
An alliterative name can help you stand out in the crowd. Fictional characters or public figures with alliteration in their names stick to our memory more than other names. Remember Donald Duck, Fred Flintstone, Mickey Mouse, Kim Kardashian, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, William Wordsworth?
Companies use the alliterative effect all the time to make their brand name memorable. American Airlines, Bed Bath & Beyond, Coca-Cola, Krispy Kreme, Lulu Lemon, Park Place, PayPal are a few examples.
Alliteration in phrases and quotes is also very effective — the last laugh, leave in the lurch, making a mountain out of a molehill, neck to neck, method to the madness, out of order, pleased as punch, pooh-pooh, not on your nelly.
It is not hard to make alliteration, and they are used extensively by good writers and poets. Shakespeare was a master if alliteration. When he wanted to describe the moment Antony saw Cleopatra on the barge and fell in love with her, he needed something to make the words memorable. He chose alliteration.
The barge she sat in like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails and so perfumed that.
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.
Milton to Tennyson, Edgar Allan to Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway to Maya Angelou, they have all used it.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
When I see birches bend to left and rightRobert Frost in Birches
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
For some reason, people love a string of words that start with the same sound. No body knows why. But they do. You can spend all day trying to write a great memorable sentence, bang your head against the wall to put some universal truth on paper, but it is much easier to string together some words that begin with the same letter.
Yes, you can ban the bomb, burn your bra, and push power to the people.
2. Want to emphasize or persuade, use anaphora
Anaphora is used to emphasize a phrase while adding rhythm to a passage. This technique consists of repeating a specific word or phrase at the beginning of a line or passage.
The repetition of a word can intensify the overall meaning of the piece.
Poets use it as an artistic element. Have a look at Shakespeare’s sonnet below.
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly — doctor-like — controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill
And Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.”
I remember a piece of old wood with termites running around all over it the termite men found under our front porch.
I remember when one year in Tulsa by some freak of nature we were invaded by millions of grasshoppers for about three or four days.
I remember, downtown, whole sidewalk areas of solid grasshoppers.
I remember a shoe store with a big brown x-ray machine that showed up the bones in your feet bright green.
Politicians and public speakers use anaphora as a form of persuasion, as a method to emphasize a specific idea. Remember Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons in June 1940:
“We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, 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.”
And Martin Luther King Jr’s address at the March on Washington in 1963:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
However, if anaphora is overused, the repetition ends up being boring rather than inspiring. Be aware of the number of times that a phrase or word is used and how your writing flows, so you get the most out of using anaphora.
3. Want to drive the point home, use epistrophe
Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word or words at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. It is a counterpart of anaphora.
Since the emphasis is on the last words of a series of sentences or phrases, epistrophe can be very dramatic.
Politicians use epistrophe all the time. President Barack Obama’s repetition of “Yes, we can” at the end of the sentence after sentence is an example.
Abraham Lincoln’s words, “And the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” are forever etched in our memory.
So are the words of J F Kenndey’s.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Literature draws some of its dramatic appeal from epistrophes. Poetry, in particular, lends itself well to the rhythmic flow of an epistrophe. Here is an example from the Master.
If you had known the virtue of the ring,– The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,
Or your own honour to contain the ring,
You would not then have parted with the ring.
Here are a couple of examples from prose.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now, we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.– Corinthians 13:11
Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid, each cycle of the wave is valid, each cycle of a relationship is valid.–Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Just like catchy speeches, catchy lines delivered in movies, TV shows, or songs have repetition as the key. Here is one from The Lord of the Rings
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight!
Okay, there is a lot here to remember, so let me summarise.
Rhetoric devices are formulas, just like mathematics. The formula that you can learn from a book (I recommend Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence). They are based on what works rather than what might work.
1. Using a string of words with the same consonant sound is an easy and foolproof way to create memorable titles and lines.
Nobody knows the reason why but people are suckers for alliteration. If you want to make the title of your book, name of your character, or a phrase memorable, use alliteration.
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility will always make good titles than Dignity and Prejudice and Prudence and Sensibility.
Curiosity didn’t kill any cat, nobody has thrown a baby out with the bathwater, it takes two to tango but it also takes two to waltz.
2. Repetition of a specific word or phrase at the beginning of each line or passage is a simple technique to emphasize or persuade.
Politicians and public speakers use it all the time.
It’s preposterously easy to do. It’s so preposterously easy to pick some words. and it’s so preposterously easy to repeat them.
3. Want to make a dramatic impact like leaders, use the same word or a string of words repeatedly.
Remember the oath we take in the court:
I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
See if you can introduce some of these in your writing.