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    Not to Mention a Muddled Mix of Metaphors

    bodeclown.jpgQuote:  “Torino’s Olympics, a topsy-turvy mix of marvels and misadventures…” USA Today

    Figure of Speechalliteration, the figure of picked pickled peppers.  Also known (among a very few rhetoricians) as paroemion (par OH mee on).

    Why did Figaro wait to do this figure, after 148 entries ranging from accismus to yogiism? Well, for one thing, you presumably already know it.  For another, alliteration is the clumsiest, laziest figure of all, and an unfortunate favorite of under-caffeinated headline writers.

    The USA Today reporter, suffering from jet lag and over-hyped American athletes, resorts to alliteration (“mix of marvels and misadventures”) in a frantic attempt to warm up a chilly extravaganza that few Americans watched.

    Snappy Answer:  “Say that five times fast.”

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    Reader Comments (3)

    I usually agree with you, but I can't get on board with your wholesale derision of alliteration. I believe that alliteration is a pun at the level of the sentence, perhaps with better or worse results, but certainly not always bad ones. In short, good alliteration is not "laziness," but careful crafting. Alliteration can help move the reader along in the text, convey the importance of specific ideas, make a text more interesting, and help the reader to remember key ideas. Certainly there are puns that are childish,
    but there are puns that give pleasure and pass as wit too. I believe that Hugh Blair approves of alliteration, why are you so grumpy about it, Figaro?
    March 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjen
    We probably overdid it, Jennifer, but alliteration is overused as a figure, and it gets in the way of a sentence more often than not. If it gives pleasure, though, Figaro is all for it.

    Puns are something different: if they're done right, they sound a two-note cord allowing ironic oscillation (to coin an alliteration) between two meanings. Figaro is a big fan of puns, as his beleaguered children will tell you.

    As for Hugh Blair, we believe he was partly responsible for rhetoric's downfall; he took it even farther from his political origins and helped smuggle it into belle lettres. Alliteration is one example; one rarely hears it in oral speech, outside of an occasional loopy vice president. (Remember Agnew's "Nattering nabobs of negativism"?)

    March 1, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    I concur in part and dissent in part with this one. Overused alliteration does make you sound like a hack high-school poet, on the other hand, used well, it can be very powerful.

    In speech, especially it can add to the strong rythm that the best speakers develop, used sparingly, it can add punch and drive to what might otherwise be a slow-moving passage. I think that especially paired with parallell structure it can be effective, if used carefully and sparingly (or should that be sparsely and sparingly?)
    November 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWintermute

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