Mark Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase is a fun book, and perfect for anyone who loves to analyse language, to see how lines 'work' - what makes them dramatic, poetic, or otherwise memorable.
It's a bright and breezy run through "the formulas, flowers and figures of rhetoric", or figures of speech, in 39 short chapters (that's including "a divigation concerning versification", or a quick look at metre). Every figure is explained or illustrated with quotations from great literature and popular culture, so for instance, we discover that Yoda is the master of hyperbaton - that is using words in the wrong order; "Bond. James Bond" is one of the most famous examples of diacope, or the verbal sandwich; Tom Jones was employing litotes when he sang "It's not unusual ...", as was Queen Victoria when an off-colour remark aired at dinner caused her to say "we are not amused".
Alongside the familiar such as alliteration, hyperbole, assonance, personification, and transferred epithets ("disabled toilet''), are figures which are just as often used but whose names are less well-known. Lawyers* are fond of merism - words for words' sake, as in naming the parts of things rather than the whole, so "ladies and gentleman", instead of "people", Cole Porter's "Night and Day" rather than "always". Lawyers also love hypotaxis, that is using many subordinate clauses. This infuriates the rest of humanity leading to lines such as Shakespeare's earliest memorable one: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (Henry VI Part 2), which is itself an example of prolepsis, or using a pronoun before the noun to which it refers.
Lennon and McCartney get as much of a look in here as do Churchill, Kennedy, Dickens, and sundry poets. "I do not believe," says Mark Forsyth, "that The Beatles had any idea what anadiplosis was [it's the repetition of the last word of one clause as the first word of the next], any more than I believe that the Rolling Stones knew about syllepsis [one word used in two or more incongruous ways]. They knew what worked, and it did," and so as the book examines each rhetorical figure it is "a looking glass, in which you can see the best of your words," for we all use these figures of speech, all the time, and this funny, sharp, clever little volume reveals the formulae behind all the best lines.
*I speak as one...**
**(aposiopesis, or becoming silent).