Adult · language · Nonfiction · review · The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

17415726Hardcover, 224 pages
Published November 7th 2013 by Icon Books
Source: Publisher

he idiosyncratic, erudite and brilliantly funny new book from Mark Forsyth, bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon.

In an age unhealthily obsessed with substance, this is a book on the importance of pure style.

From classic poetry to pop lyrics and from the King James Bible to advertising slogans, Mark Forsyth explains the secrets that make a phrase – such as ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright’ or ‘To be or not to be’ – memorable.

In his inimitably entertaining and witty style he takes apart famous lines and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. Whether you’re aiming for literary immortality or just an unforgettable one-liner, The Elements of Eloquence proves that you don’t need to have anything to say – you simply need to say it well.


I found that while The Elements of Eloquence is a much more somber volume than its predecessor The Horologicon, it is just as entertaining and informative as the volumes before it. Forsyth, in short bursts full of details, explains several rhetoric devices that a reader or writer may recognize and even utilize but not necessarily know the name or definition of. What I found invaluable about the volume were the many examples of the various rhetoric devices as used in famous literature. The Elements of Eloquence while an instructive volume is an ode to English literature and the greatest literary figures that have created it.

I also liked that Forsyth is careful to include a disclaimer that touches on the different and perhaps contradictory views existing that may describe and define the rhetoric devices differently. Forsyth does not claim his work to be of an exhaustive nature and writes with a verisimilitude that makes reading nonfiction a rare pleasure (for me). If I had any quibbles, it would be that the examples of the rhetoric devices, or the rhetoric devices in action came from authors who are most often white and male though I do not think Forsyth can be blamed for that. Then again, had he wanted to, he could have included contemporary examples from female authors but it’s a small quibble.

I enjoyed reading this volume and learned quite a bit about writing though I am not sure I have the expertise to apply it all to my own work. We’ll see, I suppose. I recommend this if you have a passion for the English language and English literature.


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