A head for figures
How big a nerd am I? Judge for yourself. (Hypophora) When I opened the package from Godine to discover Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric (David R. Godine, 254 pages, $26.95), I was thrilled, I was giddy, I was delighted. (Anaphora)
Though surely there has been rhetoric as long as there has been language with speakers who recognized and employed its patterns, it was the Greeks who named it and exploited it and provided the technical terms for it. (Polysyndeton)
Adept speakers and writers understand that patterns—patterns of repetition, patterns of parallel structure—enable their audience to grasp meaning more readily. Rhetorical patterns crop up everywhere—in advertising, “Choosy mothers choose Jif” (Polyptoton); in the catchphrases and slogans of politicians, the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “But just because you’re born in the slum doesn’t mean that the slum is born in you.” (Chiasmus)
As Ward Farnsworth points out, figures of speech “can show a worthy sentiment to great advantage. But they are merely grating when used to inflate the sound of words that are trite or trivial in substance, a regrettably common use of figures that has helped to give a bad name to rhetoric in general.”
Mr. Farnsworth, who despite being a professor of law writes clearly and trenchantly, wastes no time here with the trite and the trivial. This book of categories of figures of speech abounds with impressive examples: Abraham Lincoln, Pitt and Churchill addressing the House of Commons, Dickens gleefully exploiting combinations of language like Bach improvising at the organ, Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible establishing expressions for the centuries.
This wealth of examples, if you will only look into them, will stimulate your interest, gratify your curiosity, and amplify your own writing. (Isocolon)
Hypophora: Speaker or writer asks a question and answers it.
Anaphora: Repetition of the same words at the start of successive phrases or clauses.
Polysyndeton: Repeated use of conjunctions.
Polyptoton: Repetition of the root of a word with a different ending.
Chiasmus: Repetition of words with the order reversed.
Isocolon: Use of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases similar in length and parallel in structure.