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Perfect Turns, Perfect Phrases

September 21, 2016

When was the last time you were stopped in your tracks by a pleonasm or a zeugma? You probably wouldn’t know unless you consulted Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase (Berkley, 2013).

As a former English teacher, I couldn’t wait for the unit on Figures of Speech, which I developed as a Master’s Degree Project and which did a marvelous job of standing the test of time. It proved to be one of the most fun units for everybody, and my students were quick to find examples of alliteration, hyperbole, and epizeuxis everywhere—on roadside signs, television commercials, even the daily announcements at school. I didn’t have Forsyth’s book then, but wish I had.

Much of the information for this book came from Richard A. Lanham’s standard reference work A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, which can be found in the Main Library’s 3rd floor Reference Department. It’s a monstrous tome—in content, not size—and cannot be checked out. Mark Forsyth’s book, on the other hand, is free for the checking out and full of fun and interesting surprises, a surprisingly funny collection of some of the best, weirdest, and most wonderful archaic terms. “Oh, so that’s what that’s called!” is a familiar reader expression heard during the enjoyment of this book—a book which, by its own right, is qualified to be considered an important reference work for writers and speakers. This book, more than any other I’ve found (including the Lanham text) gives full explanations and examples of each of its word presentations, including pronunciation keys for the more difficult ones to pronounce. Unlike the Lanham text, the technical terminology here is peppered with playful historical anecdotes that illustrate and enlarge the reader’s understanding and appreciation.

This book is a must for the shelves of writers and poets. As the Library Journal states in its review of this book, “Get ready to be impressed and entertained,” and I would add, “Save room for a few good belly laughs!” Mark Forsyth is the proprietor of the popular blog The Inky Fool.

Yukon Cornelius avatar


Paul Smethers, a former high school English teacher, is an Associate with the Adult Services Team at Main. His special interests are poetry, ghost stories, and the French Bourbon dynasty.