Whilst on a recent short-break to France, my great friend and guru of the English language, Sophie, handed me a holiday read.
Within minutes I was hooked. Mark Forsyth’s insightful masterpiece never left my side…
This book of revelation could have been called ‘How to Write Wonderful Words’. Instead, Mr Forsyth chose something more poignant: ‘The Elements of Eloquence – How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase.’ For reading ease, I’ll refer to this new-found treasure as ‘EE’.
Why get this book
Witty yet deeply researched, EE demonstrates how people like Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Lennon and even Katy Perry have applied age-old techniques in order to write wonderful words that people remember.
‘Alliteration’, ‘Merism’ and ‘Chiasmus’ are just 3 of the 39 phrase techniques referred to within EE. If you’re scratching your head now, prepare yourself for ‘Pleonasm’, ‘Litotes’ and ‘Zeugma’. But worry ye not; Forsyth’s word saga is all about making the complex simple.
Each short chapter begins with a meaningful explanation of the specific subject. The author then leads you carefully through a jungle of rhetoric (with occasional tongue in cheek) to explain the theory and practice of how each technique is applied.
How to Write Wonderful Words
Whilst this post can’t cover all 39 chapters, below is a colourful taste of what you’ll discover…
‘Antithesis’ is the use of two statements that place the obvious next to an opposite, twist or contradiction. Forsyth highlights many examples:
‘The well-bred contradict other people, the wise contradict themselves.’ – Oscar Wilde
‘Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.’ – T. S. Eliot
Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.’ – Samuel Johnson
Using a simple X & Y formula, the author also explains how you can create your own Antithesis. Once you have EE, the magic will be revealed.
Sandwiching one word or expression in-between two others is known as ‘Diacope’. The turn of phrase adds weight to the message and you’ll find the technique being used far beyond the journeying exploits of our famous spy, who of course also said ‘Never say Never again’.
‘Burn Baby Burn’, ‘Crisis, what Crisis’, To Be or not To Be, Run Toto Run’ etc. are all memorable phrases referred to in EE. Note – on page 60 you’ll discover the Wizard of Oz script almost dined on a diet of Diacope. Enjoy.
Humans like and remember symmetry and the application of this technique is known as ‘Chiasmus’. On page 129, Forsyth highlights how JFK loved to use Chiasmus in his speeches so they were remembered. Examples include: ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind’ and ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate’.
The author also highlights why the phrase ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan’ (Coleridge emulated by Frankie) is memorable. However, it’s not the symmetry of words but the symmetry of the vowels that makes this phrase so cool.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
An – Ah – Oo – I – Oo – Ah – An
The reveal in this last example left me in complete awe of the writer.
The English language is constructed in a highly regular order (sentences are typically: pronoun, verb, adjective, noun). But not all languages obey the same rules (for example, German often has the verb at the end of the sentence). So when we hear English spoken in an odd order our ears immediately prick up, notice and remember. Perhaps the most famous exponent of Hyerbaton is Yoda.
“Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.”
“When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
The next post (Entrepreneurial Stamina Izzard Style) deliberately includes Hyperbaton. Find it you can?
Key Learning Points
The persuasive and influential entrepreneur benefits from the use of good English. However, knowing how to apply techniques that make persuasive English stand-out and memorable, adds critical weight.
If you create messages, emails, letters, adverts or any promotional material, learn how to write wonderful words. I can’t recommend EE highly enough. Whilst audio copies are available, I have benefited from being able to go back and back to the written text to fully understand and appreciate the nuance of Mark Forsyth’s poetic content and voice. You’ll find everything on Amazon.