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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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alliteration (əlĬt´ərā´shən), the repetition of the same starting sound in several words of a sentence. Probably the most powerful rhythmic and thematic uses of alliteration are contained in Beowulf, written in Anglo-Saxon and one of the earliest English poems extant. For example:

descr='[ETH]'a com of more under mist-hleopum
Grendel gongan; Godes yrre baer …

(Then came from the moor, under the misty hills,
Grendel stalking; the God's anger bare).Beowulf, Book XI

The poet was drawing here on an even older Germanic tradition, just as he was setting a high standard for other poets in Anglo-Saxon, who produced such alliterative works as Widsith, Deor's Lament, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and The Ruin. Although the tradition lay dormant for centuries, an alliterative revival occurred in England in the mid-1400s, as evidenced by such masterworks as Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (see Langland, William; Pearl, The). Shakespeare parodies alliteration in Peter Quince's Prologue in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely breach'd his boiling bloody breast.

Modern poets have continually renewed the possibilities of alliteration, e.g., Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Pied Beauty" :

Glory be to God for dappled things …
Landscapes plotted and pieced—fold, fallow and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

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alliterate •serrate • concentrate • airfreight •ingrate • filtrate • arbitrate •exfiltrate • magistrate • orchestrate •calibrate • celebrate • emigrate •immigrate • denigrate • penetrate •defenestrate • administrate • aspirate •perpetrate • decerebrate • desecrate •execrate • consecrate • integrate •carbohydrate, hydrate •nitrate • quadrate • prostrate •borate, quorate •portrait • polyunsaturate •acculturate • depurate • indurate •triturate • inaugurate • suppurate •substrate • adumbrate •ameliorate, meliorate •deteriorate •collaborate, elaborate •liberate • corroborate • reverberate •saturate •confederate, federate •desiderate • moderate •preponderate •proliferate, vociferate •perforate • invigorate • exaggerate •refrigerate • decorate •accelerate, decelerate •exhilarate • illustrate • tolerate •commemorate •demonstrate, remonstrate •agglomerate, conglomerate •enumerate •generate, venerate •incinerate, itinerate •exonerate • remunerate • evaporate •exasperate • separate •cooperate, operate •incorporate •recuperate, vituperate •perorate •lacerate, macerate •incarcerate • eviscerate • expectorate •alliterate, iterate, obliterate, transliterate •adulterate • asseverate • sequestrate •commiserate • birth rate • sensate •condensate • decussate • compensate •tergiversate

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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’.