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Alliteration: yes or no?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by sirvaliantbrown, Apr 15, 2009.

  1. I just read Jeff MacGregor's latest, and there is this sentence: "Thus, a struggle tonight between stars and systems, individuals and institutions, despair and joy -- an apt enough American metaphor for the recent unpleasantness seen all around us."

    I've been trying to not use alliteration, ever. Unlike metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and all those other devices we memorized in high school English, it seems to me totally valueless. How does it help the reader, or the quality of our writing, if we use two words which begin with the same letter? Upon any type of reflection, it seems quite ridiculous.

    But I am open to a) arguments about how our brains have been evolutionarily trained to enjoy repeated consonant sounds; b) arguments about how (Good Writer X) made great use of alliteration, so we can too; c) other arguments.

    Please pacify this poster. (Ha!) Thanks.
  2. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I don't believe that's alliteration, Buck.
  3. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    I like me some alliteration. Goes to poetic license.

    Falling faintly, faintly falling.
  4. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    There's no hard and fast rule. Alliteration works just fine sometimes. Sometimes it's trite. So the right answer is yes, AND no.
  5. I just wonder why it "works just fine." I mean, I do it, and then I read my article, and then I think, "What did I accomplish by writing 'The woman wailed. The man moaned' instead of, you know, the same thing, but in non-alliterative words?" (Editor's note: I have never written "The woman wailed. The man moaned.")

    Metaphors, similes, even onomatopoeia on rare occasions - all of these devices have very obvious functional uses. They help tell the story, to convey themes and images, etc. etc. I guess I'd like someone to tell me what the functional purpose of alliteration is.
  6. EagleMorph

    EagleMorph Member

    No one should set out to use various literary devices consciously, sitting at the keyboard and saying, "I have to use alliteration here, and this paragraph absolutely requires some onomatopoeing!" Even overly thought-out metaphors and similes should be avoided, in my book. There has to be a natural fit. Forcing things never works, and that goes from story development to story construction to the final revisions.

    So, if the alliteration fits, use it. If there's something questionable about it, see if something else works.
  7. Oh, you're totally right about not forcing things. Devices have to fit. Absolutely.

    My alliteration question, though, is this. You said "So, if the alliteration fits, use it." But what makes this device in particular ever "fit"?

    I know what makes a metaphor fit - it's not distracting, it doesn't seem like a hyperbolic stretch, it conveys the thought or image better than straight words could, and so on. But why oh why does starting several words with the same consonant ever "work"? What is the purpose of that?

    I'm not trying to be difficult - I just wonder if there's an answer other than "because sometimes that sounds good." (In which case I'd ask if there's a reason why that is so.)
  8. EagleMorph

    EagleMorph Member

    It really is a cosmetic decision more than an actual literary device. I'd say it has more of a purpose in a column or editorial, especially a humorous one, than in a game story or expository piece. It's a more poetic piece, and subsets of alliteration - assonance and consonance - are found all the time in poetry and lyrics.

    In prose, especially in sports, I'd say alliteration is more of a happy accident than a conscious effort.
  9. jlee

    jlee Well-Known Member

    Ding, ding, ding.
  10. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    What exactly is that MacGregor sentence about? It makes very little sense to me.
  11. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    There is value in the sound that good writers create and good readers hear. Imagine MacGregor's sentence citing "stars and infrastructure, individuals and conglomerates." His version says the same thing, but its sound is more pleasing -- to this reader, at least. In addition, I bet the choice of words there fits the voice that MacGregor brought to the whole piece. Maybe the alliteration was even necessary to sustain that voice. Also: it was done so subtly as to be nearly subliminal, a good thing when the alliteration itself is not the point.
  12. goalmouth

    goalmouth Well-Known Member

    Like ethics, if you have to ask, you already know the answer.
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