I recently stumbled upon a list of "The Top 20 Figures of Speech."
The title alone intrigues me. Who initiated the competition? What were the qualifications for the judges? Did the entrants nominate themselves or did they have to be nominated by nouns, proposed by prepositions or vetted by verbs?
Was the awards ceremony televised? Was there a swimsuit contest?
I found answers to none of my questions, so I moved on.
Figures of speech can give your writing a little zing by using words in a slightly unexpected way. Some use expressions in nonliteral ways. Some use repetitive sounds to add effect. Some make comparisons and allusions.
I'll cover the first 10 this week. Come back to find the other 10 in next week's column.
Alliteration is repetition of the first consonant sounds in words. It's simply everywhere.
We learn these early in life from nursery rhymes:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Prolific comic book writer Stan Lee has used alliteration to name many of his characters: Peter Parker, Doctor Doom, J. Jonah Jameson, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer.
Stores love alliteration: Bed, Bath and Beyond; Fin and Feather; Krispy Kreme.
Sports nicknames practically require alliteration:
Ted Williams was the Splendid Splinter.
Ed "Too Tall" Jones, "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, "Pistol" Pete Maravich
Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or phrase within a few lines. It comes from the Greek word for "to bring back."
My favorite anaphora likely will always be Gene Kelly's performance of "I Got Rhythm." Yes, I forgive Gene for using "I got" instead of "I've got."
I got rhythm
I got music
I got my girl
Who would ask for anything more?
The Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham features a character who clearly does not like green eggs or ham. These are just a few of the places he would still dislike them:
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse. (This line, I can understand well.)
Antithesis uses opposing concepts next to each other in similar phrasing to emphasize the difference.
It comes from the Greek word for "to oppose."
Charles Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities this way:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.
Apostrophe was a new one to me. It's different from the punctuation mark that I so love to discuss.
Apostrophe is when a person speaks to an inanimate object or character, even without being a bit tipsy.
It's from a Greek word meaning "turning away." A speaker would turn away from the audience to address the thing.
Paul Simon used it when he wrote "The Sounds of Silence."
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again.
Assonance is the sibling of alliteration. Rather than repeating the consonants, you repeat the vowel sounds. It comes from the Latin word for "to sound."
I rarely notice assonance, so it wouldn't be in my top 20 list. But I must explain it.
Welsh poet and raconteur Dylan Thomas used long vowels in "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning, they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Chiasmus is using one phrase followed by one that reverses the order of the words. Strangely, the dictionary says the word comes from the Greek phrase "to mark with a chi." A chi is an "X," but I don't understand that definition.
"Do you eat to live or live to eat?" is a chiasmus. I always plead the Fifth when asked that one.
A euphemism is a word or phrase you use if the term you would normally use may be offensive or too explicit.
Instead of saying you're drinking a beer, you might say "you're bending an elbow."
Instead of explaining reproduction to a child, you say you want to talk about "the birds and the bees."
Businesses use lots of euphemisms. Layoffs may be described as "workforce adjustments," "involuntary termination" or "position elimination."
I've written about hyperbole before, but that's because it's the best thing ever. It's a statement that exaggerates your feelings for dramatic effect. Literalists and Spock might call you on using hyperbole.
The Weather Girls sang "It's Raining Men." Sure, the chorus uses the word "Hallelujah!" But wouldn't it be unnerving if it literally rained human beings?
During cold and cough season, you might hear a caring co-worker ask, "Are you coughing up a lung?"
You can respond, "I do not find hyperbole amusing." But expect a mocking imitation to follow.
Irony uses words in a way that's the opposite of their presumed meanings.
Here are three examples of irony:
• When the label is stuck on your new nonstick pan
• When a fire station burns down
• When "literacy" is spelled wrong.
I had never heard this word before, but I've seen its usage.
The litotes is an understatement to express the opposite in the negative form. It's from a Greek word meaning "plain."
In conversation, a person might use a litotes to gently indicate a dislike for something. Often, though, the listener can see right through the subterfuge.
What do you think of the bridesmaid dress I picked out?
Well, I don't hate it.
How did I do with this paint job?
It's not the worst I've ever seen.
And we can't forget the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
After he has had two arms sliced off, he says, "Just a flesh wound."
Sources: Your Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Literary Devices, Good Reads, American Heritage Dictionary, Education Portal, Business Insider, The New York Times, The Big Bang Theory, Poets.org, The Bleacher Report, ThoughtCo., Midland Independent School District
ActiveStyle on 10/15/2018
Print Headline: 10 ways to write with zip