I will forever be in debt of Mark Forsyth. For it was his innovative book – The Elements of Eloquence – on rhetorical figures that set me on a greater curve in learning and understanding literature and not only of English language but also of Hindi and Sanskrit. Not that I hadn’t read about rhetorical figures before I read his book but the significance and ease of applying these indispensable tools of language were not made clear to me in the fashion Mark Forsyth did through his wonderful book. I have read this book – cover to cover – thrice. I also use it as a handy reference now. So, I might have gone through some chapters tens of times.
While reading this book time and again and while reading authors who make liberal and mesmerising use of rhetorical figures, I have come to mark some rhetorical figures as my “favourite”, and actively seek them and analyse that how varyingly they have been applied by different authors. Here, I will list my favourite rhetorical figures:
This rhetorical figure is my most favourite. This may seem simple to apply but one can make a joke out of himself/herself if this figure is not handled carefully and not applied with wisdom and genuine innovation/research. I have doubts too. How many repetitions make one call the pattern as “use of alliteration”? I consider that the repetition of the sound must at least be thrice to make a proper alliteration. Another confusion is how long the interval should be between two consecutive utterances of the sound? Unfortunately, I have no answer to that. Some examples:
Full fathom five thy father lies – [from Ariel’s Song]
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes – [from Romeo and Juliet]
Apart from Shakespeare, Charles Dickens was a big fan of alliteration e.g., The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.
2. Periodic Sentences
This is the rhetorical device that I use the most. This comes naturally to me. Does it tell something about me? Perhaps that I am a maniac who likes to pile noun up on noun and up on noun and noun further up on nouns and make the entry of verb and the object seem like climax of a thriller. Many of my sentences, the various blog posts that I have written, here and elsewhere, in praise or procrastination or to express my love to someone, or the one related to my love to English language, all serve as good examples of this rhetorical device. One famous example is Rudyard Kipling’s poem – If.
The most famous examples of use of this device are: A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! and Romeo! Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo? . And of course, the most famous diacope of 20th century: Bond, James Bond. As one might have guessed, diacope is repeating a phrase or a word after a brief interruption. This makes the expression forceful and memorable.
Repeating same word, or same clause at the end of each sentence is epistrophe. With regards to paragraphs in succession, repetition of whole sentence in the end of each paragraph is epistrophe. When you become obsessed with ending sentences or paragraphs with same words, it is epistrophe. Your doctor may call it obsession but a linguist will say that it is epistrophe.
If I have to stress a point, I use epistrophe. If I have to show that I love someone immensely, I use epistrophe. If I have to irritate someone, I use epistrophe. If I have to sound humorous in a particular situation, I use epistrophe.
This is a funny trope. I have often seen its usage or used it myself to humorous effect. Mostly, because in its most basic form, it’s a pun or indicates a pun or play on a particular word. I am here going to quote the example given by Mark Forsyth in the book:
“A shocking affair happened 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.”
I try hard to use these figures of speech in writing but I am not able to do that quite often. Robert Louis Stevenson said that style is synthetic and I am not quite there yet. I hope, one day, I will be able to develop a style and use the rhetorical figures/devices frequently.
Ask yourself: how do you think? how do you speak? You’ll already have a style.