The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth is a wonderful book, you’re learning something new, and at the same time you’re laughing at Forsyth’s wit and humor.
From classic poetry to pop lyrics, from Charles Dickens to Dolly Parton, even from Jesus to James Bond, Mark Forsyth explains the secrets that make a phrase-such as “O Captain! My Captain!” or “To be or not to be”-memorable.
I enjoyed his book from cover to cover, especially as a new writer it has definitely helped with my how I phrase and choose my words.
Forsyth gradually takes you through figures of rhetoric, from Alliteration, to Hendiadys, and to Paradoxes. He does an excellent job of leading from one rhetoric to the next; they are placed in a comprehensible order that flows nicely.
The book, however, is only as entertaining as his examples. Most are biblical or Shakespearian, but every so often you come across song lyrics or an iconic movie quote.
Anadiplosis is when the last word of a sentence becomes the first of the next and so on and so forth. He originally quotes Yoda from Star Wars, but my favourite is the line from Gladiator:
“The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor. Striking story.”
…Or his example of Syllepsis which “is when one word is used in two incongruous ways,” (Forsyth, 2013) or more.
“There is an old story of a young journalist who was criticized by his editor for not being brief enough. His articles apparently had too many words and thus this story was published the next day:”
A shocking affair occurred last night. Sir Edward Hopeless, as guest at Lady Panmore’s ball, complained of feeling ill, took a highball, his hat, his coat, his departure, no notice of his friends, a taxi, a pistol from his pocket, and finally his life. Nice chap. Regrets and all that. (Forsyth, 2013)
Sometimes a dark sense of humor, but nonetheless enticing (especially for an INTJ like myself).
Forsyth goes through other examples as well including the Diacope of “Bond. James Bond.” And the Epizeuxis of “Location. Location. Location,” as well as “A Divagation Concerning Versification” which explains how poetry is formed due to the stresses in English words. It’s how you get sentences that flow and seem to rhyme without really rhyming. It was something that I had to read for my writing course I took in January, but I didn’t understand it then.
Forsyth’s simple explanation, however, was te-TUM also known as the Iamb and can have three, four, or five te-TUM’s in a row. His best example was House of the Rising Sun that goes as follows:
There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
In God, I know I’m one.
Or in other words…
All in all I enjoyed this book (I mean I read it in two days), and it’s something that I can keep and refer back to as needed when I’m writing and that’s what I love about it the most. It’s something that will continue to help me with my writing for years to come.