The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Although I’ve been writing professionally for 48 years, there’s always more to learn about writing. That’s why I read this book: to learn the “secrets of the perfect turn of phrase.”
Author Mark Forsyth opens the preface by saying, “Shakespeare was not a genius.” Instead, he says, Shakespeare learned how to write well, and we can see his growth in writing skills between his early and his later plays. In particular, Shakespeare learned to use figures of rhetoric. The Bard of Avon isn’t the only one who has been using turns of phrase to good advantage, either. Other authors, songwriters of all kinds, and speech writers use the same techniques.
Forsyth goes on to explain 39 different figures of speech. I already knew some of them, like alliteration and personification. Some of the others, like epistrophe and chiasmus, I recognized the moment I saw them, but I’ve never thought deeply about them and how to use them well.
Although Forsyth’s writing is full of jokes and fun, I read the book in one brief chapter per day. Lessons, like strong spirits, are best drunk in sips. I’ll keep the book for reference, too. Most of all, I hope to write a little better — with a little more intentional rhetorical flourish. If it worked for Shakespeare, it might work for me.
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