Mark Forsyth’s Elements of Eloquence has bounced up to the top of my list of best books on writing. Like Joseph J Romm’s Language Intelligence, it covers the lost art of rhetoric – a topic that was standard fare for Shakespeare and his contemporaries (including the scholars who created the King James Bible).
Each chapter covers one of the figures of rhetoric that you’ll recognise, even as the Greek title is completely alien:
- “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country.”
- “All for one and one for all.”
- Transferred epithets:
- “His eyes widened and an astonished piece of toast fell from his grasp.” P.G. Wodehouse
- “Bond. James Bond.”
- Burn, baby, burn.
- “Sir Edward Hopeless … took a highball, his hat, his coat, his departure, no notice of his friends, a taxi, a pistol from his pocket, and finally his life.”
- “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.”
- “Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears, and a sedan chair.” Charles Dickens
What makes the book an absolute delight, as well as an essential reference, is the quality, wit and enthusiasm of Forsyth’s writing. He clearly loves his subject.
Forsyth also writes the Inky Fool blog, worth following for a regular dose of etymology.