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The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by [Forsyth, Mark]
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The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 244 customer reviews

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Review

'Sparkling ... the book offers many pleasures ... I laughed out loud at the examples chosen' -- Charles Moore Daily Telegraph 'An informative but highly entertaining journey through the figures of rhetoric ... Mark Forsyth wears his considerable knowledge lightly. He also writes beautifully.' -- David Marsh Guardian 'It is good news that the popular author of The Etymologicon should now potter round the rhetorical warehouse at our elbow, commenting on the choicer goods on view, for he is well-informed and amusing.' -- Christopher Howse The Spectator 'The Elements of Eloquence makes a daunting, potentially boring subject exciting ... Forsyth's wickedly clever, irreverent take on rhetoric should cement his reputation as a virtuoso: it is hard to think of any other book that tackles the topic with such style.' -- South China Morning Post 'Highly entertaining, short, sharp and to the point ... all life and language is here!' Good Book Guide

Review

‘Sparkling … the book offers many pleasures … I laughed out loud at the examples chosen’ (Charles Moore Daily Telegraph)

'An informative but highly entertaining journey through the figures of rhetoric ... Mark Forsyth wears his considerable knowledge lightly. He also writes beautifully.' (David Marsh Guardian)

'It is good news that the popular author of The Etymologicon should now potter round the rhetorical warehouse at our elbow, commenting on the choicer goods on view, for he is well-informed and amusing.' (Christopher Howse The Spectator)

'The Elements of Eloquence makes a daunting, potentially boring subject exciting ... Forsyth's wickedly clever, irreverent take on rhetoric should cement his reputation as a virtuoso: it is hard to think of any other book that tackles the topic with such style.' (South China Morning Post)

'Highly entertaining, short, sharp and to the point ... all life and language is here!' (Good Book Guide)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2165 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00KFEJN3Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 244 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #19,803 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This could have been a jaw-drippingly dull read, but Forsyth's style and humour carry it along so well, I was disappointed to reach the end.

I bought The Elements of Eloquence after seeing the pithy analysis of English word order (Chapter 8: Hyperbaton):

“adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.”

The writing is informative but engaging; intelligent but accessible. Forsyth mostly explains the rhetorical figures by employing the figure in his explanation: so he explains epistrophe by ending every sentence with the same words (because that's exactly what epistrophe is); he explains hypotaxis using simple sentences. Short and snappy. The description of farmer's English had me laughing out loud: embarrassing on a crowded train.

Other examples are taken not just from classical literature but also pop music, TV and movies. Most of my time reading this book, I wore a disturbing grin from the sheer pleasure of it.

It's not for everyone. But if you love wordplay, if you love language, if you love the English language like Nabokov and Rushdie love the English language, then you must, must, must read this book. It is joyous.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fun, interesting read, somewhat in the spirit of Stephen Fry’s “An Ode Less Travelled” in that it wants to educate people in literary technique rather than critique the work. It claims to be impatient with the style of writing about literature which sees its aim as to “decode” the true meaning and intent of the author, so:

“English teaching at school is obsessed with what a poet thought, as though that were of any interest to anyone. Rather than being taught how a poem is phrased, schoolchildren are asked to write essays on what William Blake thought about the Tiger; despite the fact that William Blake was a nutjob whose opinions, in a civilized society, would be of no interest to anybody apart from his parole officer…”

Although a little bit of an exaggeration, he has a point! So this book is a guide to the various tricks and techniques involved in turning an eloquent, memorable phrase. Although not a “how to…” guide with exercises, it does explain how a person can use all the various techniques to write and speak better. It also explains the background and etymology of all the complicated sounding words which describe rhetorical techniques: Aposiopesis, Hypotaxis, Diacope and so on. I don’t know enough about the subject to say if this book could accurately be called comprehensive, but it does seem to cover a lot of ground, without overstaying its welcome.

It is quite a short book, but full of really fascinating and occasionally useful stuff. Recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I previewed this book before buying it and was encouraged by the style and pace of the sample. Rhetoric may not seem like a particularly relevant skill in modern times but this book illustrates clearly how adepts in the art can turn a run-of-the-mill idea into an apparent gem of wisdom. If you think these concepts have fallen out of use, check out the latest political sound-bite to change your mind!

The book itself is a circular tour of a catalogue of rhetorical devices, entertainingly described and illustrated with examples from everyone from Plato (if memory serves) to The Beatles and Bob Dylan. The author defines each construction, then describes how it's been used by writers down through history. Using proverbs and quotations, he makes a case for the use of the construction, often offering alternative phrasings that, quite simply, don't cut the mustard like the original. At the end of each chapter, he finishes with a final example that's also an example of the device described in the next chapter (and, by the end, he arrives back where he started).

I was particularly taken with his opening passage, which starts with a denial of Shakespeare's genius (how often do you find someone going public with that?) No, says Forsyth, what Shakespeare did was to work at his art and get better at it with years of practice. He applied many of the concepts described later in the book and, when he did, he came out with his most memorable quotations. (Would anyone remember "Can anyone lend me a horse, please?" in comparison with what he actually wrote?)

If you have any love of language, this is a book you should read. If you ever have to speak in public, ditto. But please don't expect a dry, turgid exposition of rhetoric. This is a good read and something you could keep by the bedside to dip into whenever you get the urge.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was one of those children who used to read much later into the night than I intended. 'Just to the end of this chapter...' I'd plead, when mum called out to me to turn out the light. Inevitably I'd find myself an hour later in the middle of another chapter having simply not noticed the end of one and beginning of the next (or the next, or the next). I've never before done it with a book about grammar though.

This slim volume is as delightful to read as it is to hold. Mark's explanation of the wordcraft of Shakespeare was a revelation - I've never before understood what made the bard so great, but with the gentlest of touches, Mark draws back the curtain and reveals the cogs and gears and crank shafts that keep the whole Shakespearean machine rumbling smoothly on after all these centuries. His explanations are clear and his examples draw from a range of sources to deliver the tools every writer needs to turn their writing from prosaic to poetic.

Buy it, but be warned: don't start reading it late at night - at least not if you value your sleep.
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