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The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase (2013)

by Mark Forsyth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Mark Forsyth's Ternion Set (3)

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6981826,387 (4.2)6
From the #1 international bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon comes an education in the art of articulation, from the King James Bible to Katy Perry... 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. In his inimitably entertaining and wonderfully witty style, he takes apart famous phrases and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or quip like Oscar Wilde. Whether you're aiming to achieve literary immortality or just hoping to deliver the perfect one-liner, The Elements of Eloquence proves that you don't need to have anything important to say--you simply need to say it well. In an age unhealthily obsessed with the power of substance, this is a book that highlights the importance of style.… (more)
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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Did you know that adjectives in the English language have to be listed in a certain order to be correct? Specifically, they need to be ordered opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose. So you can have a beautiful small vintage round cream Italian marble sewing table, but try to rearrange the order of those adjectives and you'll have chaos.

Furthermore, did you know that when you repeat a word with a different vowel it's always in the order of I A O? So you can say "pish-posh!" and you'd sound archaic but understandable, but try saying "posh pish!" and people will think you drank your lunch. Try it with any similar phrase: hip-hop, pitter-patter, jibber-jabber, tip-top, bish-bash-bosh; they all follow the same vowel order.

I knew neither of these and they were just in one chapter (chapter 8 - Hyperbaton). The Elements of Eloquence covers the figures of rhetoric; those rules, for lack of a better word, that make writing memorable, impactful, beautiful or unforgettable. Shakespeare used most of them as did most (all?) of the writers of merit throughout history.

Forsyth devotes one chapter to each of the figures and includes examples from great literature and poetry, great song lyrics and political speeches current and historical. He does it all clearly and with a dry humour that makes even the dullest of the figures interesting to read about. I don't think I've ever learned so much about my own language in all my schooling combined. He even described meters (the writing kind, i.e. iambic pentameter) in a way that not only made sense but I'll remember too. English teachers should use this as a reference, if not an actual text book.

If you have any interest in the English language I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's well-written, entertaining, well-researched, foot-noted and funny. I can't wait to read the other two books he's written that are sitting in my pile. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 22, 2022 |
Mark Forsyth is a genius. Well, not really, but he not only has a way with words, he's also very capable of taking linguistic themes and present them in an entertaining and informative fashion.

[b:The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language|15956908|The Etymologicon A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language|Mark Forsyth|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1370514042s/15956908.jpg|18022434] was the first of his books I read and found very worthwhile, as you can read here. The next one, [b:The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language|18299397|The Horologicon A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language|Mark Forsyth|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1375884302s/18299397.jpg|21412078], was also very much a hit, though a little less than the previous one, in my humble opinion here.

And now, there's a third book in this series, if you could call it a series. It's all about rhetoric this time. Various terms are lined up, provided with a brief and informative explanation - filled with examples from (un)known poets, songwriters, authors, politicians, and others: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, John Major, John Milton, the Bible, Tennyson, William Blake, etc. Even if you're not into poetry, for example, Mark simply takes extracts from various sources (songs, poems, speeches, ...) to show how this or that kind of rhetoric is applied.

You get to know about alliteration, antithesis, synaesthesia, periodic sentences, paradox, pleonasm, hyperbole, personification, syllepsis, litotes, and a lot more. For obvious reasons, the focus lies on the English language. Like before, Mark wrote about each term in a successive way: he starts with term A and ends with an example about term B, which is followed by explaining term B, which ends with an example about term C, which is followed by explaining term C, and so on and so forth.

While, like Mark wrote, we don't pay attention anymore - in general - to several of these forms of rhetoric, it's still nice to read about them, even if you're not pursuing a writing career, for example. However much you're interested in language, writing or anything along these lines, this neat little book will influence your reading or observation. You may not instantly use the technical terms, but you will (subconsciously) read with a different mindset and not only in English. Perhaps it will make you appreciate, for example, your native language more, or simply help you detect the rhetoric in your native language.

It's far from the dryness of academic works, which also go more into detail, including an etymological level (which I missed here, but that wasn't the goal of the book), and that's because of Mark's writing style and his witty remarks to make the subject and explanation more playful. And he's a master at it, without question. Like in his other books, he added a very short list of more serious works one can explore, if one desires to do so.

In short: recommended for all who are interested in the English language, are seeking information on how to improve their writing skills, and/or just want to read a light and funny story on the various figures of rhetoric. ( )
  TechThing | Jan 22, 2021 |
Forsyth provides his personal take of the numerous subtle elements of rhetoric in an entertaining way ensuring accessibility to the layman. ( )
  Georgina_Watson | Jun 14, 2020 |
Have you always wanted to write like Shakespeare? Or is reaching literary immortality your thing? If you have nothing of any note to say, but still want to have maximum effect in your prose then you need to learn the finer arts of rhetoric. In this expose of the one liner, Mark Forsythe details the way to write that will give you much more style than you thought possible. Its origins are Greek, who formulated the concepts; these were built on by the Romans, before the baton was handed to the English when they finally got around to their Renaissance. Beginning with the always alluring alliteration, he moves through merism, hyperbaton and diacope before asking some rhetorical questions and considers periodic sentences. It would not be complete without the fourteenth rule, nor elements of paradox or hyperbole…

I have read and loved the The Etymologicon and The Horologicon before so was really looking forward to this, and mostly it didn’t disappoint. I liked the way he expanded the 39 elements of rhetoric, moving neatly onto the next from the previous chapter. And it is very readable too, he has a knack of explaining things with the barest hint of wit and using examples that bring a smile to your face. Well worth reading, even if you haven’t got a degree in English! ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
Dental hilarity

I bought this without hesitation as soon as I saw it was written by the author of the Etimologicon. Started reading it whilst I was sitting in the dentist's waiting room and couldn't help laughing like a loon. Love it! ( )
  Kindleifier | Nov 15, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mark Forsythprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mogford, DanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Does an "explanation" make it any less impressive?
Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough
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Shakespeare was not a genius. [Preface]
Let us begin with something we know Shakespeare stole, simply so that we can see what a wonderful thief he was. [Chapter 1]
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From the #1 international bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon comes an education in the art of articulation, from the King James Bible to Katy Perry... 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. In his inimitably entertaining and wonderfully witty style, he takes apart famous phrases and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or quip like Oscar Wilde. Whether you're aiming to achieve literary immortality or just hoping to deliver the perfect one-liner, The Elements of Eloquence proves that you don't need to have anything important to say--you simply need to say it well. In an age unhealthily obsessed with the power of substance, this is a book that highlights the importance of style.

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