‘A spoonful of alliteration helps the medicine go down’
I’m a sucker for an alliterative list.
When a client asked me to write a piece on the 28 languages now available on her company’s technology, I wrote this lead:
“Whether you speak Chinese or Czech, Korean or Catalan, Finnish or French, Tetra radios speak your language.”
Got a list? Why not alliterate a little?
“A spoonful of alliteration helps the medicine go down,” write Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
It helps the listings go down, too.
Siddhartha Mukherjee uses this approach to communicate a list of side effects in The Emperor of All Maladies:
“The acute, short-term effects of nitrogen mustard — the respiratory complications, the burnt skin, the blisters, the blindness — were so amply monstrous that its long-term effects were overlooked.”
Help readers remember. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink writes that there are three reasons we’re moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age:
“Abundance, Asia, Automation”
Alliterating a short list like this serves as a mnemonic: It makes the list easier to remember, especially for listeners at TED conferences, where Pink is a frequent speaker.
“Alliterative words … give listeners’ and readers’ minds an auditory hook on which to hang a memory,” writes Sam Horn, president of Action Seminars/Consulting, “Alliterating the key words tickles our intellect and makes ideas easier to grasp and remember.”
Communicate range. Alliteration works for a range as well as a list.
In Innocent, Scott Turow writes:
“But even by the standards of somebody whose emotional temperature usually ranges from blah to blue, I’ve been in a bad way awaiting today.”
I alliterate both a range and a list in my bio:
“Ann’s workshops take her from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators in organizations like NASA, Nike and Nokia polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work.”
Alliterate a list today. Have a long, random list to alliterate? Use The Alphabetizer to quickly sort your list into alphabetical order.
How can you use alliteration to make your language more lyrical?