We have just discussed the canons of invention and arrangement in the previous two blog posts, and today, we move on to the next canon:  Style.

Style refers to how you will get your message across. Two pupils of Aristotle developed the five virtues of style below; Cicero and Quintilian then taught these virtues to their students.

The five virtues of style are:

  • Correctness – this includes using correct grammar and correct syntax.
  • Clarity – write or speak clearly and simply. Avoid passive tense and avoid long words that most people do not understand.
  • Evidence – use your “evidence” or support in a way that engages your audience, such as telling a story, or using a metaphor to give life to your facts.
  • Propriety – this is the correct use of language and word selection.
  • Ornateness, or Figures of Speech – use figures of speech to make your message interesting. Some examples include:
    • Alliteration (repeating the same letter or consonant sound)
    • Onomatopoeia (using words that “sound” like what they are trying to describe, e.g., Boom! Buzz! Pop!)
    • Asyndeton (omitting conjunctions, i.e., “I came; I saw; I conquered”)
    • Simile (a comparison, using the words “like” or “as”)
    • Metaphor (a comparison among two unlike things)
    • Antimetabole (the repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order, e.g., “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”… “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”)
    • Parallelism (similarity of structure in a series of words or phrases)
    • Personification (referring to inanimate objects as though they had human qualities)

… and many more.

Exploring and learning the different figures of speech is something I particularly enjoy; I’d love to go on and list all the figures of speech. There are many that I do not even know. With the list above, I have only scratched the surface.  Utilizing some of these techniques makes a speech or essay that much more powerful and memorable. Furthermore, as a writer, it is a challenge to find just the right way to express a particular thought or idea, and having such a list nearby is helpful to encourage new and fresh expression.

Tune in tomorrow for the next canon: Memory.

Question for you: How can you add figures of speech into your own writing?  Do you have a favorite, or several, you typically employ?