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Exercise in Identifying Sound Effects in Poetry and Prose

Practice in Recognizing Alliteration, Assonance, and Rhyme


The 20 passages in this exercise have been drawn from a wide variety of poems, plays, speeches, novels, essays, magazine ads, and TV commercials. To prepare for the exercise, read the article Ten Titillating Types of Sound Effects in Language and then review the definitions of alliteration, assonance, and rhyme.

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The beauty of the contents of a phrase, or of a sentence, depends implicitly upon alliteration and assonance.
(Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Art of Writing")

Begin by reading the following passages aloud. Then identify and discuss the specific type(s) of sound effect created in each passage--in particular, examples of alliteration, assonance, and rhyme.

Don't be surprised if you find two or three different figures of sound in the same passage. As Professor Tom McArthur has observed, "The terms alliteration, assonance, and rhyme identify kinds of recurring sound that in practice are often freely mixed together" (The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992).

  1. Pick Up a Pin
    See a pin and pick it up,
    All day long you'll have good luck.
    (proverbial couplet)

  2. Blue Bonnet
    Everything's better with Blue Bonnet on it!
    (advertising slogan for Blue Bonnet margarine)

  3. Thin Lips
    Kiss your thin lips goodbye!
    (advertising slogan for Perfect Pout, a "lip plumper")

  4. Sores in the City
    There they are.
    Thirty at the corner.
    Black, raw, ready.
    Sores in the city
    that do not want to heal.
    (Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Blackstone Rangers," 1968)

  5. Easy Breezy
    Easy breezy beautiful CoverGirl
    (advertising slogan for CoverGirl cosmetics)

  6. Strains of Charmaine
    From a radio came the strains of Charmaine, like scraps of silk fluttered on the spring night.
    (Peter DeVries, The Tents of Wickedness, 1959)

  7. Nattering Nabobs
    In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club--the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.
    (William Safire, from a speech written for Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1969)

  8. Filled With Brim
    Fill it to the rim with Brim.
    (advertising slogan for Brim coffee)

  9. The Clannish Spanish
    I started to travel to try to unravel
    My mind and to find a new chance.
    When I got to Spain it was suddenly plain
    That the field that appealed was the dance.
    The Spanish were clannish but I wouldn’t vanish.
    I learned every step they had planned
    The first step of all isn’t hard to recall
    Cause the first step of all is to stand
    And stand
    And stand, and stand, and stand, and stand.
    (Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, "The Maladjusted Jester." Sung by Danny Kaye in the The Court Jester, 1955)

  10. Livid, Lurid, Sulphurine
    The sky is livid, lurid, sulphurine. It is in violent commotion. It is whirling water-spouts of cloud into the air; of dust in the Exhibition. Dust swirls down the avenues, hisses and hurries like erected cobras round the corners. Pagodas are dissolving in dust."
    (Virginia Woolf, "Thunder at Wembley," 1924)

  11. Rising and Gliding
    How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
    Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
    (Walt Whitman, "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer")

  12. Gnarled Neem Tree
    [A] Neem tree grows, an old gnarled Neem tree
    on whose top diurnally crows hold their school,
    and fluttering pigeons peep to the lisp of leaves
    babbling in the breeze, and chittering squirrels
    scamper up and down its bole or antlered boughs . . ..
    (Manjeri S. Isvaran, "The Neem Is a Lady," 1957)

  13. Weeds on the Beach
    Otherwise the place is bleakly uninteresting: a wilderness of wind-swept grasses and sinewy weeds waving away from a thin beach ever speckled with drift and decaying things--worm-riddled timbers, dead porpoises.
    (Lafcadio Hearn, "Chita: A Memory of Last Island." Harper's, 1888)

  14. The Slipping String
    First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
    With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
    With hurting love; the music that they wrote
    Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
    Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
    For the dear instrument to bear.
    (Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Children of the Poor")

  15. Palaver
    Progression is not proclamation nor palaver. It is not pretense nor play on prejudice. It is not of personal pronouns, nor perennial pronouncement. It is not the perturbation of a people passion-wrought, nor a promise proposed.
    (Warren G. Harding, speech at the 1912 Republican Convention)

  16. Hot Shot
    His boots are tight, the sun is hot, and he may be shot, but he is in the shoulder of the worm.

    A dust speck in the worm's belly is a poet.

    He laughs at the flaring eagle and makes a long nose with his fingers. He will fight for smooth, white sheets of paper, and uncurdled ink. The sputtering sword cannot make him blink, and his thoughts are wet and rippling. They cool his heart.
    (Amy Lowell, Men, Women and Ghosts, 1916)

  17. Restless Ecstasy
    Better be with the dead,
    Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
    Than on the torture of the mind to lie
    In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave;
    After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;
    Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
    Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
    Can touch him further.
    (Macbeth in Act III, scene two, of Macbeth, by William Shakespeare)

  18. Collegiate Calorie Counting
    Forget the most obvious problem with collegiate calorie counting, that studying Kierkegaard or Conrad after a dinner of seitan and soy chips would render even robust stomachs seasick, sometimes outright ill. And I won’t harp on the clear link between vigorous salad consumption and sulkiness.

    No, it’s that step-by-step, nitpicky dieting--any kind of strangling self-denial--goes against the very essence of the university experience.

    College is a time for excess, for experimentation. It is four fleeting years of free-spirited indulgence in the form of metaphysics classes, a cappella ensembles, Gaelic Women’s Poetry or Intro to Interpretive Dance.
    (Marisha Pessl, "Seize the Weight." The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2006)

  19. Go Play!
    Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a fork'd one!
    Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
    Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
    Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
    Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.
    (Leontes in Act I, scene two, of The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare)

  20. Having Our Day
    Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day; and rest of brain and affection please.
    (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1855)
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