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on 13 November 2013
I heard this pleasant gentleman on Radio 4 and immediately thought that this would be a most interesting book. I went home and purchased it on Kindle. Great idea for a book and very revealing, however it revealed more about Mr Forsyth's sprinkling's of bloody and dammed in the first few chapters, than I cared to know. Obviously trying to be a popular book on this obscure topic he is just too trendy with the generally poor use of descriptive language having to resort to bad words, an he knows it. Then I was intrigues by the 'blurb' regarding the use of rhetoric in the King James Bible, he did not then have to excuse his examination of the Bible by saying that God had many faults!
A good idea ruined by an attempt at playing to the general crudeness in society. I read a few chapters and deleted the copy, so glad I didn't buy the hardback.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2013
I very much enjoyed Mark Forsyth's fluffy but inspiring earlier books on words, notably The Etymologicon, and his new title The Elements of Eloquence is equally enjoyable (and anything but a hard read). But it is also a book that makes you stop in your tracks. Because this stuff really matters.

Forsyth has revealed a startling truth that should have been obvious - in all those hours spent in English lessons we aren't taught how to write well. Yet there is a way to do this that has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks and that was, until it went out of fashion, a major part of the school curriculum - rhetoric.

Now, if you told me a couple of weeks ago that I would wax lyrical about a book on rhetoric, I would not have believed you. 'Rhetoric' just sounds really dull. As a subject, it sounds as if it would make politics look engaging. Yet, as Forsyth so ably demonstrates, rhetoric is simply the key tools and techniques of getting something across in words in a way that will catch the attention and engage the reader. Although originally aimed primarily at speeches, these techniques are equally important for the written word.

A couple of hundred years ago children were taught rhetoric - now we have to pick it up by osmosis as our English teachers rabbit on about 'what the author was feeling when she wrote this' or 'what the author really means.' How much more valuable to teach us 'what techniques and tricks the author is using to reel the reader in.'

Admittedly the whole field could do with a bit of a work over. If their science was anything to go by, I can't believe the ancient Greeks had the last word on rhetoric - there are probably key tools and techniques they weren't aware of. And the current terminology is horrendous. Forsyth points out that experts can't agree on what the rhetorical terms mean - but even if they could, many of them are obscure Greek words that are almost impossible to remember. If we were to teach rhetoric again, I'm sure we could come up with more memorable terms than aposiopesis, polysyndeton and epizeuxis (to name but three). But the fact remains that rhetoric is a treasury that most modern writers have never consciously explored - and our writing life would be much richer if they had. It's a brilliant conceit to do this, Mr Forsyth.

Is the book perfect? No. I find Forsyth's writing style a little too jovial and jokey, while some of the approaches he uses (cramming paragraphs full of the rhetorical technique covered by that chapter, and ending each chapter with an example of the next technique, for instance) are irritatingly clever-clever. For me, some of his examples of hendiadys just don't make sense (though to be fair, he says you can never really be sure this technique has been used.) But I can forgive anything for a book that has educated me more about the use of English than several years in English classes at school.

if writing were building construction, grammar and vocabulary would give us the raw materials and the basic skills to assemble them, but rhetoric provides the abilities of the architect. To write without an awareness of these tools and techniques is like expecting a bricklayer to create a cathedral. Anyone with the faintest interest in writing, or the English language, should be rushing out and buy this book.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2015
This is perhaps the most entertaining book about the English language I have read this year. I added the qualifier ‘perhaps’ because I am currently reading his book The Etymologicon which might eclipse Elements of Eloquence in terms of entertainment. Elements explains why great writers (of speeches, poetry, songs, advertising copy and so on) use certain phrasing to make what they have said more memorable than writing without knowledge of what makes things ‘pop’.

Forsyth provides his definitions of each of the ‘figures’ of rhetoric and is quite candid that there is a lot of disagreement among scholars about these definitions. He provides the definition which he thinks makes the most sense and has the support of the majority, and provides excellent and entertaining examples of their employment.

Some of the figures are in common use and I, a humble ‘self-taught’ writer, like a lot of people manage to use some of them without really thinking about it. For example I am an ardent admirer of alliteration – often employing it to the edge of overuse. I also use tricolon a lot – if only from listening to Del la Soul repeatedly enforcing the coda that three is the magic number. There’s a few others (personification was obviously part of my ‘O’ level education in terms of how they relate to simile and metaphor and allegory) but I have to agree that I have been ‘baking blindfolded’ as Forsyth puts it – sometimes I luck out and write a catchy sentence but most times not so much.

Since reading the book I have been keeping an ear out for the use of these figures when listening to film dialogue and of course songs which are as close as I get to reading poetry – lyrics are full of assonance, alliteration, isocolons, anaphora, diacope, smatterings of epanalepsis and lots of other things I have already unfortunately forgotten the names for, and the lines in films are generally memorable because of the use of one figure or more. A great example recently is “if we burn, you burn with us!”

I think Forsyth’s main point is that great writers such as Shakespeare and Dickens were not necessarily happy to settle on using the talents they were born with but in practicing their craft and learning how to employ the figures to great effect. He bemoans the usual edict to ‘delete unnecessary words’ that a lot of modern writers follow and this is something I will ponder as I write. It is obviously a matter of personal choice or taste when and when not to be succinct or meander into the realms of pleonasm.

Finally it was great to finally find out what the iambic pentameter was and also read about all the other meters that are out there in the wondrous worlds of poetry and prose in Forsyth’s divagation concerning versification. When I have written poems in the past I have always looked at how many syllables each line contained and then struggled to make sense of the flow (or meter!) when what I should have been looking for was in fact something called ‘feet’ (of which there are four types including the iamb) to then fit to a consistent meter line by line. The iamb is a te-TUM and if you put five in a row then you get the iambic pentameter te-TUM- te-TUM- te-TUM- te-TUM- te-TUM. Simples! And much used by Shakespeare – perhaps something I was taught and have since forgotten. Anyway thanks goes to the @inkyfool Mark Forysth for running me through it!
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on 3 December 2013
No complaints about the contents of the book, which I am sure are as entertaining and edifying as the publisher and author have worked so very hard to persuade us they are. However, whoever had the brilliant idea of sticking a white bar-code label crooked on the back of the hardcover should have a bit of a think about their career choices. I tried to peel the label off, because the book was going to be a gift, and tatty labels on books are generally designed to come off - but this one wasn't. The back of the book is now buggered, and I'm having a sense of humour failure and fighting the urge to throw the book out of the window with a loud scream in lieu of a review.

I don't think I can now give this stupid book to anyone as a present unless I pretend that I live with an uncontrollable posse of chimpmunks who are obsessed by light-weight literary fripperies and express their obsession through cover-gnawing. I'd have to go to the trouble of getting the chipmunks (is that even legal?), and presumably Instagramming some shots of them in my house ravaging my library in order to establish a credible back story. I'm just not prepared to go those lengths to make a damaged present acceptable to the recipient - so perhaps instead Amazon could give the person whose job it is to stick labels onto books some sort of training in either precision, or perhaps glue technology. Or just not put the stickers on in the first place.

It's no good, I am going to throw it out of the window and scream. It'll make me feel better.
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on 6 November 2017
I wish it were possible to give a -5 rating. I was expecting to learn about language that would improve my English vocabulary and grammar. I was NOT expecting lewd references to women and words that include 'oral sex' and 'f***'. Excuse me for mentioning such words in a review but I wish I had received a warning before buying it so I'm warning other people who prefer not to read books with such words. If I preferred a book with such language I could have bought something that wasn't packaged so misleadingly. The cover of the book is very elegant. If only the content reflected that.

I only read it for about 15 minutes! I hate to think what else I might have come across if I'd carried on reading. There may be some useful, helpful content to the book but, personally, anything helpful was completely ruined by such obscene language. The title is very misleading. The author may consider such words to be 'eloquent' but they're certainly not elegant. A more appropriate title for the book could be: 'The elements of foul language: how to improve your knowledge of lewd words'.
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on 16 February 2016
I have nothing to say about the content of this book, except maybe that it is inspirational and you should read it.
My problem is the Big Ugly Sticker on the back cover of the hardback edition.
I read this on Kindle and thought it would make a wonderful gift in physical form. It isn't, as the sticker won't come off easily and looks as though it will either leave marks or tear a portion of the back cover surface. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but I do judge the distributors, publishers, or whoever was stupid enough to deface a book with an advert for the book itself in ebook form.
I will try and return it but I ordered it to be picked up during a brief visit to the UK. So slightly disappointed.
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on 14 January 2014
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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on 18 May 2017
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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on 21 October 2016
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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on 11 November 2013
One of the things I loved about the Etymologicon was the linking hook at the end of every chapter. In the Elements of Eloquence Forsyth exhibits the same elegant structure with excellence and ebullience. No prizes for spotting what I did there as I am no expert. But now it's more subtle. You may need to buy the book. Or ask for it for Christmas. Or not.
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