Writing to Delight: Word Wizardry from Onomatopoeia to Personification

In our last adventure in wordsmithing, we talked about all the ways we can muck up our writing with mistakes.  Today we’re going to explore the other side of middle school  English class, the ways we can play with words to make what we write more interesting and engaging for our readers.

As a geeky kid, I was tickled and amazed that there were words for playing with words in a very specific way.  My fascination with word play has helped me remember most of these terms, long after I’ve forgotten exactly when to use a semicolon or how to craft a concise sentence.   I had a request to do a piece on commas, but quite frankly, I am not the person to write it.  I abuse commas like red-headed stepchildren in urban legends.  I sass up the phrases around my commas in the hope no one will notice how haphazardly I toss them around.  The jig is up now, I should brush up.   Anyhow, let’s get to the word wizardry!

Alliteration – Word wizardry is a good example of one of the tricks most of us remember from elementary school.  Alliteration can get excessive quickly, swaying from charming to overly twee or downright obnoxious.   Used correctly, alliteration can be a great tool for building a cadence in your writing.    A little goes a long way, but the occasional double tap on an initial sound can add energy, emotion and spice to your writing.

Onomatopoeia – Onomatopoeia is words that sound like what they do.  Squish. Boom. Crash. Bang.  English may be a grumpy language to learn and master, with all our rules and exceptions and irregular verbs, but we have a word like onomatopoeia, and that’s all right with me. This page defines it as intuitive harmony, and I think that’s a lovely description.

Anastrophe – Made pop culture famous by a tiny, green Jedi, anastrophe is switching word order with a rakish disregard for the rules of syntax.  Fun, anastrophe can be, yes.

Assonance – Assonance is the repeating of vowel sounds as so: Oh no! I’ll never sew my old coat in time for the show! Like alliteration, in assonance in moderation can really step up the energy and cadence of what you write.  Think of it like that old rule for accessories.  Before your assonant sentence leaves the house, have it take one bit of assonance off.

Circumlocution – Using twenty words when five will do.   That picture next to this word in the dictionary looks nothing like me.

Euphemism – Euphemism is protecting the assumed sensibilities of others by calling one thing by name of a presumably less offensive other thing.   Ex: When he put his wangdoodle in my boy howdy, it sang My Darling Clementine in three part harmony. Euphemism can be hilarious, or euphemism can elicit eye rolls.   Be careful, and with all word wizardry, use in moderation.

Periphrasis – Similar to circumlocution, periphrasis is word fluffing.

Metaphor – A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things to paint an artful picture with your words.  Simile, anthropomorphism, personification and hyperbole are all examples of metaphors.

Personification – Personification is giving human qualities to non-human things.  Typically, personification is used to describe attributing human qualities to non-sentient things, anthropomorphism assigns human qualities to animals.

Hyperbole – Hyperbole is the best thing ever!

Simile – A simile is a comparison using like or as.  Ex: This slice of pie is as beautiful as a unicorn bathed in rainbows. Other Ex: His coat was like a warm hug.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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