October 25, 2007

#01-029: Figures of Speech - Part I: Sounds

three clocks in a shop window with a sign, "no tic tac"
"Tick tock" is onomatopoetic. This sign in Italy advertises a silent clock.

Note: Like idioms, figures of speech are words or combinations of words that carry meaning or, as in this lesson, feelings beyond the words themselves. We'll meet four today, and two more very common ones in Lesson #01-030.

Get Ready: English speakers: What are some words used to indicate sounds, like "bang" or "meow"? Speakers of other languages: Do you have words in your language that are supposed to show a sound, like a gun going "bang" in English, or a cat saying "meow"?

In another lesson we discussed "Allusions," which are just one of the many kinds of figures of speech.

One article I found online lists over 115 types of figures of speech! Most of these have exotic, uncommon names (although the figures themselves might be quite familiar).

But also there are quite a few common figures of speech known by most people from their high school English classes. For example, there is also a common group of figures of speech based on sound: onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, and assonance.

Onomatopoeia describes a word that supposedly sounds like its meaning. "Bang" and "pop" are common examples. Digging deeper, we might find "buzz," "slap," "crash," and so on. Animal sounds ("the cat meowed," "the bird chirped") are often onomatopoetic.

Alliteration, assonance, and consonance are all based on the use of repeated sounds. There is something pleasing to English users when sounds are repeated. Perhaps that's why they are commonly used in company names and advertising slogans.

Alliteration is when the initial (first) sound of a word is the same. Companies in my hometown include "Best Buys," "Midas Muffler," and "Super Speedy Car Wash." The Yellow Pages can help us "Find help fast," and the Washington Post's motto since 2017 has been, "Democracy Dies in Darkness."

Consonance is easy to catch: It's the repetition of consonant (non-vowel) sounds anywhere in the word, as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." Note that this is not strictly alliteration, since there are Ps in the middle of "piper" and "peppers." The name of my favorite drink uses consonance: Coca-Cola.

Assonance is tougher to find. It is the repetition of vowel sounds within words. Perhaps we like to say "Sesame Street" because of the repeated "ee" sound. (Note the consonance, too.) A local traffic helicopter in Los Angeles is called "The Eye in the Sky." (This is also rhyme, plain and simple.) And a song by singer Jim Croce begins, "Like the pine trees lining the winding road..." and a couple of lines later mentions a "croaking toad."

All of these are helpful if you are making a slogan or naming a company. In the next lesson, #01-030, we'll look at some other common figures of speech, as well as a few uncommon ones, that you can use to make yourself more expressive.


Read more:

Practice: Match the figure of speech to its examples:

  1. onomatopoeia
  2. alliteration (only; no consonance)
  3. consonance
  4. assonance

  1. Three beekeepers have seen magazines in a tree.
  2. Stop slamming the door.
  3. A man named Tom comes to my meetings.
  4. Buying big boxes is the best bargain.
  5. The cow mooed.
  6. "The moon rose over an open field" --Paul Simon
  7. My sister faxes several signatures systematically.
  8. I never need to be nice to my nephew.
  9. The kids were splashing in the pool.
  10. I draw all knowledge from Socrates.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 25, 2007

This lesson received 752 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice:
    1. b (slamming); e (mooed); i (splashing)
    2. d ("b" sound); h ("n" sound)
    3. c ("m" sound); g ("s" sound)
    4. a ("ee" sound); f ("oh" sound); j ("ah" sound)