Alliteration - makes poetry out of prose

And Songs out of Speeches

Have you noticed J K Rowling's extensive use of alliteration? That figure of speech must be one of the many tricks up her sleeve. Here are some examples for you from her:

1. ...flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four.

2. ...he had hidden himself behind a large hydrangea bush...

3. ...vanished from view before Uncle Vernon's voice...

4. ...smoking on street corners and throwing stones at passing cars

5. Eyes streaming, he swayed, trying to focus on the street to spot the
source of the noise, but he had barely staggered upright...

6. ...resisted the temptation to tie his trunk to his broomstick and set off

7...hiding in flowerbeds in the hope of hearing something


All the above were from the first few pages of the Order of the Phoenix. Did you notice the recurring sounds? That's alliteration. Read the lines aloud and you will see that prose can take on a lyrical quality when such figures of speech are employed. The last example from Rowling, also has rhyme which is alliteration at the end of words and lines: hiding, hearing, something. Alliteration normally occurs, or is used, for first syllables, but not always. Though some call them 'front rhymes.'

"The sibilant sermons of the snake as she discoursed upon the disposition of my sinner's soul seemed ceaseless." Gregory Kirschling, The Gargoyle.

Here are two clever tricks combined. Apart from the shameless alliteration, there is onomatopoeia...read the line aloud please. When you read it aloud, you would appear to speak in parseltongue like Harry Potter! You hiss, due to the profuseness of the sibilants in that sentence. Profuseness of the sibilants in that sentence? Horrors, I seem to have been infected too.

J K Rowling Photo: Sjhill (Steven Hill) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Sjhill
J K Rowling Photo: Sjhill (Steven Hill) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Sjhill

Whomping Willows and Dudley Dursley

In the humourous tradition of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, J K Rowling gives many of her characters alliterative names: Dedalus Diggle, Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff... These lend the characters a spoof-like, stylized quality, and, of course, make them funny. Methinks she overindulges in them, though she gives readers a lot of fun.

Aliiterative names make the characters unreal and flat, reminding me that I'm in a story, a farce, not in real life. Just when I get really lost in that world. But she is wise enough not to give her important characters such names. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley... They are fleshed out characters, real persons, you know.

Tongue Twisters and Tennyson's Treats

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. That's one of the earliest examples of alliteration I picked up and a tongue twister. And this one: Betty Botter bought a bit of butter...

Alfred Tennyson was known to spend hours and sometimes days to get a line just right. Just right and without the strain and pain showing. Check this out:

Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet
Myriads of rivulets, hurrying through the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Close your eyes and repeat the lines and you can see the rivulets hurrying through the lawn and hear the bees hum. Those lines are the last lines of his Come down, O Maid.

That's not overuse or misuse of alliteration, since it is verse, and contributes to an onomatopoeiac experience. We have to restrain ourselves in prose, and be very, very careful when we want to convey seriousness.

That is the warning implied: Overdo your alliteration, and your prose becomes unreal and frivolous, twisting the tongues of your readers to the bargain. But use it wisely, along with rhyme or onomatopoeia and your writing can be set to music.

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Comments 30 comments

Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean

I look for it and use it in poetry. Never thought about it outside of that. Now that seems silly of me.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Oh no, no, not silly of you. We prosaic people, who don't do proper poetry, try to copy as much as we can from poetic devices. And we have been doing it for ages. :)


Iðunn 7 years ago

great hub. alliteration yes, but I look for parallels too and an underlying truth. interesting point about alliteration in names making fictional characters two dimensional. I agree.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Hey there, Old Friend! :)

My only complaint with the Harry Potter series is that she makes it too spoof-like at times. Spoof versions of technology and names like this.


Iðunn 7 years ago

I admit to never reading or watching Harry Potter. :( I can't comment to that. Glad to have an excuse to say hello though.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

I have to read everything that's popular. :)

But yes, hello, hello! :)


Iðunn 7 years ago

being popular is the main reason I avoid some films and books, LOL. you know how elitist I can be that way.

I'm lost in a world of parralels at the moment. It's like being in the mirrored funhouse at the fair and not being able to find the exit. bah. glad you made a hub so I could get a glint of light from the outside and know which direction to go.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Only if you want to find the exit. I don't mind remaining in the funhouse. :)


Iðunn 7 years ago

I suspect I'd rather be in your funhouse than mine. I'm in full sulk. all my gods are getting mixed up together and overlapping one another and I'm seeing dead people in the mirrors with me.

I've got to stop watching dark docos, I think, at least for a while.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Yes, the world has a lot of sadness and its share of evils, but why should we only indulge in them and ignore the joys and good things? To be fair to the world, I mean. And to your self.


Iðunn 7 years ago

and that, my friend, is why I always seek you out. yeah, I get lost sometimes. possibly I should go browse art dot com for a bit and get lost in that beauty as an antidote.


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 7 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Kenny now that is what I call dissecting a book down to its molecules. I have read and reread and listened to on audio-books the Harry Potter series dozens of times (as its one of my favorite to sew by) and never did it occur to me to look for alliterations. I think you have a point though about the minor characters being spoof-like and flat compared to the main ones.

On that note I have a lot of sewing to do...I'm off into my favorite magical world and this time I will listen for alliterations.

Awesome hub as always kind Sir

regards Zsuzsy


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

But don't lose yourself too much in beauty, Iðunn, as the world needs people like you to speak against its ugliness. :)

Kind Madam Bee, thank you. I am a reader first and dissector or analyst second, and I do that only to improve my craft. Happy sewing, and good that you listen to its music too. :)


Iðunn 7 years ago

heya, Kenny, I suspect if one has a Fate that one is mine.


Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 7 years ago

Love how observant you always are, Kenny.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

heya, Iðunn, I'm not sure about one having a fate either. Maybe that is a karma you chose for yourself.

Great to 'meet' you again, Isabella! :)))))

Thanks for the compliment. Yes, people complain about how observant I am. :D


barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

Aliteration always allows one to make a statement that one is careful about choosing catchwords...


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

LOL Barry, your comment is a good example for alliteration!


Linda Myshrall 7 years ago

I love these hubs where I learn something... or am re-introduced in a non-snoozy way to something I learned a long time ago. I bet you have more fun stuff in your hub collection- I'm off to snoop.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 7 years ago from Chennai Author

Aw, Linda, I wish all my readers were like you. :))


Moulik Mistry profile image

Moulik Mistry 6 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

It is very interesting, there is good lesson for everybody...


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

thanks, Moulik!


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 6 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

"Aliiterative names make the characters unreal and flat, reminding me that I'm in a story, a farce, not in real life. Just when I get really lost in that

world

To be fair to the world, I mean. And to your self".

Facebook brought me back to you...you rascal..the kids must be growing up so quickly. and I so Love your work...am sure they are as handsome as you...from what I have seen..give the Mrs.my love and Know I think about you often......and hope you feel it.:O) Hugs G-Ma


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 6 years ago from Vermont, USA

Kenny, a hugely humorous hub on a salient subject...sorry!

I tend to lean toward alliteration in much of my writing and have to consciously tone it down on occasion. When it compliments the construction and sweetens the sound alliteration serves to follow Shakespeare's direction: Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounce it to you, trippingly off the tongue.

I think you both have something there.

CP


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 6 years ago from Chennai Author

Hugs, lots of them, G-Ma! :))

CP, alliteration abounds in your comment! :D


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 18 months ago from Nashville Tn.

Thank you for teaching me the meaning of aliteration. Been guilty at times I fear. Great information. Will share!


Mekenzie profile image

Mekenzie 18 months ago from Michigan

Kenny, Glad to have come across this hub today. You are a skilled, observant and educated writer. I think I will learn from you.

I love when alliteration is crafted in such a way to open the senses enabling them to enter a scene with keen awareness of scents, sounds, and sights.

Thank you for a glimpse into alliteration's ability to make poetry out of prose.

Nice to meet you - look forward to reading more.

Mekenzie


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 18 months ago from East Coast, United States

Though I never read any of the Potter series, I've always meant to. J K Rowling created several kinds of magic with her books. It apparently worked quite well! I wonder if that alliteration gave kids a hint of books they had read earlier, the picture books where they played with language to capture a child's interest. Very interesting hub here. I've got a copy of Harry Potter somewhere...


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 18 months ago from Houston, Texas

I have not read any of the Harry Potter books but did catch one of the movies after it was shown on television. I never gave it thought that alliteration was used so freely, but you are correct. Interesting!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 18 months ago from Chennai Author

Thank you for your kind words, Vocal coach, Mekenzie, Dolores and Peggy! And for reviving an old hub! :)

I used the term alliteration loosely to include assonance, but puritans will tell you that alliteration is the term used for sounds at the beginning of words. But they serve the same purpose, so forgive me.

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