Figurative Speech: Alliteration

What is alliteration and how do we use it? It is the use of a sequence of words where the consonant sounds are similar or each word in the sentence begins with the same letter or letters. The words may not sound the same, but by starting with the same letter(s) it feels as if they do. Alliterative phrases stick in the mind because of the word pattern method.

For most of us, our earliest encounter with alliteration will be in children’s poetry or in tongue twisters. This famous tongue-twisting poem about fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning and her discoveries along the Jurassic Coast is probably the most recognisable.

She sells sea shells on the sea shore
The shells she sells are sea-shells, I’m sure.
For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore
Then I’m sure she sells sea-shore shells.

Another famous example is: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Childhood tongue twisters and poetry are not the only examples. We see them every day and some businesses use them to great effect. I’m sure there’s no coincidence with the business names PayPal, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Range Rover, Weight Watchers and so on. It has always been the case that businesses need a memorable name and a slogan; a company name that sticks in the mind is no guarantee of success – but it could give you a leg-up against your competitors because of the catchiness.

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They are memorable because of the method used in encouraging people to remember the name. Humans seek patterns in images and in words. Perhaps the image here from V For Vendetta caught your eye and now you are wondering precisely what that has to do with alliteration? Well, V knows how to turn a good phrase and there are several memorable quotes from the film.

First we have that rather lengthy quote from very early in the film. After he saves Evey from being raped and killed by the “Finger Men” (The Police Force of the oppressive Norsefire government) he delivers this monologue:

Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V

What a mouthful, right? He uses a few more which are perhaps a little easier to remember. A little later in the film where he attacks the BTN Tower to deliver his message that people should stand up against the oppressive government, he uses this (I won’t reproduce the whole speech because it is a little long and it’s quite a sobering one for our time):

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.

And finally that Latin quote he says is from Faust (which is a little vague):

Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici

(By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe)

What are your favourite uses of alliteration? Do you use it on your own writing?

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