Monday, February 20, 2023

Sonic Sorcery: Exploring Alliteration

Tupac Shakur
"Peter piper picked a peck of picked peppers"

"Sally sells seashells by the sea shore."

"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

These are all very fun & silly examples of a literary device called "alliteration", the repetition of the opening sound of words. Designed to be both tongue twisters and humorous, they stick in the mind and are a fun game for kids and elementary school English teachers.

But it should be noted that alliteration is a very useful technique, with no requirement for either twisting tongues or humor. Used properly, its a great way to (as Kris Kristofferson once put it) have words "slide off the tongue and into the ear".
Kris would know: His sly use of alliteration is in his hit song "Me and Bobby McGee".

"Somewhere near Salinas, I let her slip away...." is the example I usually give when discussing the device with students in lessons or workshops, but the entire song is filled with subtle examples, like:

"From the coalmines of Kentucky to the California sun"  and "Bobbie shared the secrets of my soul" and more.

Kristofferson uses this technique in other hit songs like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down":

"But I lit my first and watched a small kid
Cussin' at a can that he was kicking..."


"And it took me back to somethin'
That I'd lost somehow, somewhere along the way"
Joni Mitchell

But lest we think alliteration is only used by 18th century poets, children playing, and Kris, let's look at a few other popular songs that play with this technique!

"...and who's gonna have the big blockbuster box office this summer?
How about we put up a wall between houses and the highway..." (Ani DiFranco "Fuel")

"...they paved paradise to put up a parking lot..." (Joni Mitchell "Big Yellow Taxi")

"...I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king..." (Frank Sinatra "That's Life")

"...little old lady got mutilated late last night..." (Warren Zevon "Werewolves of London")

"...whisper words of wisdom, let it be..." (Beatles "Let It Be")

"...hear her voice shake my windows, sweet seducing sighs..." (Michael Jackson "Human Nature")

" try and make me change my mind and stay..." (Bob Dylan "Don't Think Twice Its Alright")

Dylan's double alliteration example is pretty bold (from "to try" to "make mind") but probably the boldest example would be rapper Lowkey in his song "Aphabet Assassin" from his 2008 debut album, which begins:

"...I'm an anarchist and an angry academic activist
Axe and assassinate the alphabet in an ambulance
Ahki I'm aggy and I'm actually anti arrogant
Artists that ask in american accents by accident..."

He then proceeds to march through the entire alphabet in similar fashion.

Other bold examples include this "M-C" combination by J-Live in his song "Mcee" (get it?):

"...more concentration on my cadence might cloud your mind 
controlling your movements capaciously 
my capacity to massacre crumbs..."

There are many more examples from the rap world, from Tupac Shakur to Saigon to Jay Rock and more.

These examples are truly daring, but remember it might take some practice to work up to this level of alliterative skill!

So...go have fun with it!

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