Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sound of Prose (1).

Sound of Prose (1). Today: Undue Alliteration or Rhyme. Every writer is occasionally guilty of having a tin ear. But the effective writer is self-trained not to write in a way that distracts with undue alliteration, unconscious puns, accidental rhyming, or unseemly images. These clunkers are sure to irritate some readers. And although clunkers are never entirely escapable, writers can learn to minimize them — most helpfully by acquiring the habit of reading their prose aloud. I.A. Richards, in a classic book, wrote: "But in most prose, and more than we ordinarily suppose, the opening words have to wait for those that follow to settle what they shall mean." The Philosophy of Rhetoric 50 (1936). This type of wordplay ("prose" / "suppose" / "those") — assuming that it is wordplay — should be undertaken cautiously because it declares that the writer is being wry or coy. Intentional but ineffective alliteration is one thing. Thoughtless alliteration is quite another — e.g.: o "The Jaguars also signed wide receiver Jimmy Smith to a new contract, and came to terms to two other draft picks." "Brackens, Jags Agree to Terms of Contract," Austin Am.-Statesman, 29 May 1996, at C3. (There are too many "tos" and "twos" here, particularly because one comes to terms "with" someone, not "to" someone.) o "That makes some sense, since [read 'sense, because'] a child who has mouth-runs is going to have a hard time winning friends." Saundra Smokes, "Breaking the Silence on the Tattletales Among Us," Times Union (Albany), 5 Jan. 1997, at E5. Other phrases susceptible to this problem include "instead of a steady," "tempted to attempt," "net debt schedule," and "need not know." Next: Awkward Repetition. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: "A device like alliteration must be used cautiously. In abundance, it becomes tiresome. Overdone, it interferes with understanding." Royal Bank of Canada, The Communication of Ideas 21 (rev. ed. 1972).
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