The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth is a brilliant book on the usage of elements of eloquence in English writing. The elements of eloquence in order to turn or write a perfect English phrase are – Alliteration, Polyptoton, Antithesis, Merism, The Blazon (A Merism Too Far), Synaesthesia, Aposiopesis, Hyperbaton, Anadiplosis, Periodic Sentences, Hypotaxis and Parataxis (and Polysyndeton and Asyndeton), Diacope, Rhetorical Questions, Hendiadys, Epistrophe, Tricolon, Epizeuxis, Syllepsis, Isocolon, Enallage, A Divagation Concerning Versification, Zeugma, Chiasmus, Assonance, The Fourteenth Rule, Catachresis, Litotes, Metonymy and Synecdoche, Transferred Epithets, Pleonasm, Epanalepsis, Personification, Hyperbole, Adynaton, Prolepsis, Congeries, Scesis Onomaton, and Anaphora.

What will happen if you cook something blindfolded? The same thing can happen when you write blindfolded. Mark Forsyth wrote on cooking blindfolded: “Shakespeare was not a genius. He was, without the distant shadow of a doubt, the most wonderful writer who ever breathed. But not a genius. No angels handed him his lines, no fairies proofread for him. Instead, he learnt techniques, he learnt tricks, and he learnt them well.”

“Shakespeare wasn’t different. Shakespeare got better and better and better, which was easy because he started badly, like most people starting a new job.”


“Rhetoric is a big subject. It consists of the whole art of persuasion. The lot. It includes logic (or the kind of sloppy logic most people understand, called enthymemes), it includes speaking loudly and clearly, and it includes without what topics to talk about. Anything to do with persuasion is rhetoric, right down to the argumentum ad bacculum, which means threatening somebody with a stick until they agree with you. One minuscule part of this massive subject is the figures of rhetoric, which are the techniques for making a single phrase striking and memorable just by altering the wording,” the author mentioned. “Not by saying something different, but by saying something in a different way. They are the formulas for producing great lines.”

Who is a poet? The book informs the reader, a defining definition of a poet: “A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosopher. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, however commonplace they may be, exquisitely. That is the one and only difference between the poet and everybody else.”

“Nobody knows why we love to hear words that begin with the same letter, but we do and Shakespeare knew it,” Mark Forsyth mentioned, and answered, alliteration – Burn your bra.  Ban the bomb. Love your flexible friend (PayPal). Alliteration can be brief and obvious – a short, sharp, shock. Or it can be long and subtle. John Keats once wrote fourteen lines of Fs and Ss, and it was beautiful:

“Deep in the shadow sadness of a vale

Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,

Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,

Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,

Still as the silence around about his lair;

Forest on forest hung about his head

Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,

Not so much life as on a summer’s day

Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,

But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.

A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more

By reason of his fallen divinity

Spreading a shade: the Naiad ‘mid her reeds

Press’d her cold finger closer to her lips.”

Paroemion is an element of eloquence which means excessive alliteration, and polptoton is: farewell farewells (adjective + noun: Please please me). And Shakespeare’s polyptoton is: Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments. Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove. The sun of God tended to use subtler polyptotons – pretty neat double: “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us”.


Antithesis is ‘you make a statement, and contradict it, or takes another turn. X is Y, and not X is not Y’. Mark Forsyth identified, “Polyptoton was complex. Antithesis is simple. Indeed, the only tricky thing about antithesis is how to punctuate it. Some insist that you should use a colon: others complain that you should use a full stop. But in essence antithesis are simple: first you mention one thing: then you mention another.”

“The Bible is chock-a-block with such unnecessary but beautiful antitheses. God, whatever his other failings, is a great rhetorician.”

“The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.” –Oscar Wilde

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what which is planted: A time to ill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak: A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”


“Merism, ladies and gentlemen, often looks like antithesis, but it’s different. Merism is when you don’t say what you’re talking about, and instead name all of its pars. Ladies and gentlemen, for example, is a merism for people, because all people are either ladies or gentlemen. The beauty of merism is that it’s absolutely unnecessary. It’s words for words’ sake: a gushing torrent of invention filled with noun and noun and signifying nothing,” wrote Mark Forsyth. “You’re either better or you’re worse, you’ll be either richer or you’re poorer, you’re either sick or you’re healthy. There are no other options. If you need some words there you could say ‘in any circumstances’.”

Night and day – is a merism for always.


She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight. –The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

“Synaesthesia is a either a mental condition whereby colours are perceived as smells, smells as sounds, sounds as tastes etc., or it is a rhetorical device whereby one sense is described in terms of another. If colours are harmonious or a voice is silky, that is synaesthesia (or some other spelling),” Mark Forsyth explained. “It is a common enough device, except that there seems to be rules or norms governing which senses can be coupled. Sight and sound are interchangeable. Quite aside from John Lennon’s request to George Martin that the orchestration of ‘Strawberry Fields’ should be ‘orange’, colours can be loud or discordant while melodies can be bright and rumblings dark. Tone is even an ambiguous word that can be applied to either sense. (I omit colours that are purely symbolic: blues music is no more blue than blue movies are.)”

All of the above is technically true, as apsiopesis is signalled in English punctuation by three dots, wrote Mark Forsyth. “Like … like this … Aposiopesis is Greek for becoming silent and it’s the reason that we do not live in Paradise.”

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