Alliteration


Alliteration (al-lit’-er-a’-tion): Repetition of the same letter or sound within nearby words. Most often, repeated initial consonants. Taken to an extreme alliteration becomes the stylistic vice of paroemion where nearly every word in a sentence begins with the same consonant.


Trains, tracks, tigers. Triggers, Tootsie Rolls, Tambourines. Tacos, tattletales, tourniquets.

Bitter beverage. Big Ben. Better burger.

You may think “So what?” I say, “Ha!” Throughout history, many innovations have been initiated by the play of alliteration. The list is laboriously long. So, let’s take one example: buttered bread.

In 1620 Dunstable Clodwell was shivering by the meager little fire in his drafty little cruck. His cruck was plastered with wattle, manure, and hay. His cow, Holy Mary, took up a lot of room even though she was backed into a corner, however, she generated a lot of heat and helped warm the cruck. Outside the Black Death was raging. Dunstable had resigned himself to certain death, but he was hungry. The neighbor woman Sharona Pinkwinkle always had food—she took it in exchange for doing laundry, and, as she said, “Pleasing the boys.” Sharona was big and busty. As usual, she had set out a slice of bread and a blob of butter, anticipating Dunstable’s regular dinner time visit. He ate his bread separately from his butter as everybody did back then. He looked at Sherona as he prepared to bite into his bread. He was behind her and thought “big butt” to himself, and holding his bread still, he thought, “butt on bread” and laughed to himself. Then, looking at the butter blob, he thought “as I live and breathe, what ho, what can butter on bread be?” And that was it: he put his butter on his bread and took a bite. “Mmmmm” he exclaimed, “that’s good, and I only need one hand to eat it. If I had a flagon of ale, I could hold it in my free hand, gulping it down after each bite of my butter bread.”

Sadly, Dunstable died two days later from the Black Death. He was found on his corncob mattress clutching a piece of buttered bread in his cold hand.

So, even though Dunstable didn’t know what an alliteration was, the connected consonants “b” built a bridge and sparked a realization—from big butt to butter bread the die was cast, and made smearing substances on bread a widespread practice.


Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)

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