alliteration

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ALLITERATION, also head rhyme, initial rhyme. Terms in RHETORIC, poetics, and general usage for the repetition of the same sound, usually an initial CONSONANT such as the f in ‘Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute’ ( Milton). Alliteration can serve both a mnemonic and an ornamental purpose, and is common in: verse O Wild West Wind, thou breath of autumn's being ( Shelley); story-telling prose the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River ( Kipling); speech-making Do not let us speak of darker days; let us rather speak of sterner days ( Churchill); advertising Guinness is good for you, You can be sure of Shell; TONGUE-TWISTERS Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, She sells sea-shells on the seashore; similes cool as a cucumber, dead as a doornail; reduplicative words flimflam, tittle-tattle; collocations, idiomatic phrases, PROVERBS bed and breakfast, footloose and fancy-free, Look before you leap; nicknames and epithets Battling Bill, Tiny Tim, the Broadway Butcher; tabloid newspaper headlines Saucy Sue brings home the bacon.

Alliterative verse

Verse that depends for its effect on alliteration. Such verse was unknown in classical Greek but common in Latin and the Celtic and Germanic languages. Old English verse such as the epic poem BEOWULF was alliterative, as in: ‘ Hwæt, we gardena in geardagum, / þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon, / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon’. These lines have been translated into modern alliterative verse in 1973 by Michael Alexander as: ‘Attend! We have heard of the thriving of the throne of Denmark, / how the folk-kings flourished in former days’. Such verse died out with the coming of the Normans and consequent French influence, but was revived in the 13c. The best-known poems are Langland's Piers Plowman and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (both 14c). Two lines from Langland run: ‘In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne, / I shope me in shroudes, as I a shepe were’ (shope dressed, shepe ship). See ASSONANCE, ENGLISH LITERATURE, REDUPLICATION, REPETITION.

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al·lit·er·ate / əˈlitəˌrāt/ • v. [intr.] (of a phrase or line of verse) contain words that begin with the same sound or letter: his first and last names alliterated. ∎  use words that begin with the same sound or letter.

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alliteration XVII. — modL. allitterātiō, -ōn-, f. AL-1 + littera LETTER, after L. agnōminātiō paronomasia; see -ATION.
Hence alliterate XIX, alliterative XVIII.

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al·lit·er·a·tion / əˌlitəˈrāshən/ • n. the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

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alliteration the rhetorical device of commencing adjacent or closely connected words with the same sound or syllable. The term comes from Latin ad- (expressing addition) + littera ‘letter’.