Review of Elements of Eloquence – or We’re All Poets Really

How much of a poet are you? How much, I ask, how much?

Now is that a rhetorical question? Or two? Plus diacope?

Till I read Mark Forsyth‘s wonderful, little book “The Elements of Eloquence – How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase”, I wouldn’t have had a clue.

To be honest, I’m not much further on.

But, at least – to echo the philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld – I have fewer unknown unknowns, at least as English figures of speech are concerned.

Forsyth is author of the best-selling “The Etymologicon” and “The Horologicon”. These books focused on the building blocks of the English language, its words and how we come to use them as we do.

His latest book reduces the magnification to examine how these words are brought together to produce delicious and delightful phrases, sentences, sonnets, books and popular songs.

Shakespeare, unsurprisingly, gets many mentions. So do Lennon and McCartney, Katy Perry and William Blake.

Yoda to that congeries (like sheep, both singular and plural), added is.

It’s all down to the Greeks – ancient ones – and then the Romans. Lacking “I’m a Celebrity”, “Gogglebox”, “Breaking Bad” and even “Gardeners’ World” they spent their leisure time dissecting what they said and wrote, naming and defining how things were expressed – the figures of speech.

Forsyth is a humorous writer and uses his skill to good effect. Academics might quibble. Forsyth recognises this: “…there are stern and serious scholars…who would snort at my definition of subjectio…”. What we learn is that we’re up to the same things as the Greeks and Romans – well, as far as communication goes, that is. We’re all poets, really. We just didn’t know it…

Whether you wish to just dip your toes in analeptical pools, or join the serious scholars at the deep end of pleonasm and zeugma, I commend this book to you!


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