e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “rhetoric”

The words of rhetoric

cover art from goodreadsI recently bought a book about rhetoricThe Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. Subtitled How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase it gives information and examples of numerous rhetorical devices that will hopefully expand and improve the reader’s writing.

As a writer I found it fascinating and useful, but what I really loved was all those fancy names for the different devices. Words like polyptoton, aposiopesis, litotes, or epistrophe – how have I missed out on them until now? Did you know that the four names in the last sentence is a congeries (yes, that is singular and the plural is the same – like sheep)? So much grander than ‘list’. (And that verbless sentence is a scesis onomaton.)

Anyone can use rhetoric. When the main man in Dr No introduces himself as: ‘Bond. James Bond.’ he’s using a diacope (or verbal sandwich in English), as well as a scesis onomaton.

While the Greek and Latin words may take some learning, the English explanations are very readable and interesting. They open up a whole array of new understanding about what writers from Shakespeare to John Lennon have been up to.

Cover art from Goodreads.

Litotes – a new-to-me word

I’m quite a fan of understatements and decided to look some up on the web. While browsing around I came across another word: litotes, which is a special kind of understatement.

The Free Dictionary gives several definitions and examples including the following:

A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, as in ‘This is no small problem‘.

I always enjoy new words and this one sounds very learned. Also some of the sources the Free Dictionary quotes consider it to be a plural. I’m not sure it gets used as a plural – if an author includes only one in his work can a reader talk about ‘these litotes are …’ or ‘this litotes is …’. I think I would go for the latter.

I doubt if I will actually ever be able to work it into my conversation. If I did would I sound learned or pretentious?

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