Bill Casselman

Increase your knowledge of English style and syntax by learning

how repetition of ideas can assist prose style rather than hinder it.

                        Tricks of Syntax # 2

 Rhetorical Devices & Stratagems of Prose             Composition to Improve and Brighten Tired                                Sentences


Sometimes long-windedness with words, wretched excess of verbiage, works - - - especially if used in moderation, briefly, and with a modicum of style. In general, English teachers discourage students from writing in an expansive, florid, over-the-top mode. You remember all the old clichés of stern grammarian schoolmarms. Always use the simple word. Wrong! Always use the apt word and sometimes the apt word will be exotic or rare or polysyllabic. So what?

I wrote a piece about an Inuit “noise ghost,” an arctic spook, which may announce his haunting visitation by curling around a northern house on a cold quiet night and emitting a small, high-pitched hissing. This spectral wisp seeks to dehouse you. “Then, outside, after toxic cold cracks your bones, the noise ghost will jab its snout into your chest cavity, thrusting deep and red to gnaw your ribs and suck the gelid marrow from its osseous encasement.”

Using, close together, two fairly specialized medical adjectives, osseous, that means ‘pertaining to bone’ in company with gelid which signifies ‘cold’ may be thought somewhat grandiose, ostentatious, even pretentious. But high-falutin’ prose used sparingly can delight the reading eye and give the reading mind a fresh break or perspective on the sheer bounty of our English vocabulary. The glum tromp of leaden monosyllables pounding on the thin tin of a simple sentence can be tedious.

I.e. The cat ran down the street.


The persnickety kitty, a sleek Persian, chased the fleeing vole down the dirt lane, a veritable Indie 500 feline.

Which, I ask you, is the livelier sentence?

Use Too Many Synonyms All at Once
Ewwww! The careful writer ought NEVER to do that. Bull! Again, sometimes a pleonastic splorp of synonymity, a flood of words all similar in meaning, can add the joy, the awe of superfluity to verbal flow. In a short essay about unusual wind words I used this paragraph to open the chapter: “Among Grecian and Roman deities of yore, Aeolus was blustery regent of the winds, superintendent of tempests, justly weather-vain, Caesar of the sirocco, the rex in the storm, monarch of the mistral, whistling conductor of whirlwinds, in short: the pomposity of ventosity (ventus Latin ‘wind’).”

Such a paragraph, prolix and palaverous as it is, tells the reader this essay is going to be awash in rhetorical devices like repetition of meaning merely to enhance the sound of the English. This prose is going to dive overboard off the gunnels of the Good Ship Tidy Grammar. This prose may cause turmoil. For many readers such redundant undulance of similar terms washing against the shore of the sentence will be welcome and exciting. Every reader of English is not a timid schoolmarm afraid to breast-stroke through a strong tide of words.

In the same essay on wind words, I ended the chapter with this paragraph, also by some teachers branded repetitive: “Well, blow me down, wind-mates, the captain’s coffer for this wee chapter yawns void. She be empty as a harlot’s promise, me hearties. And yet, the ship nears port; the gangplank sways; the dock creaks. Sure now, we’ll return to wind words someday eftsoons, ye scurvy sea-dogs. And we’ll do so before a pelican can dance a jig on a dead man’s collarbone.”

I tried to end the chapter with a parody expression of one of those Victorian novels of adventure at sea like Treasure Island and Kidnapped and Mr. Midshipman Easy. I succeeded.

More of my style tricks will be explained, with all due lack of humility, later this year and next!

Bill Casselman, November 10, 2017

My text Copyright 2-017 by William Gordon Casselman



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