Good day for authors

Robyn Starkey rohina at
Wed Aug 17 23:56:10 EDT 2005

Now Minnow, let's not be snobby about alliterative verse. The best 
example, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, clearly lends itself to the 
synonyms invented for poetry theory, with all those lush descriptive 
passages and 57 words for "green". That being said, I think the 
causation is actually the other way around - the richness of available 
synonyms making poetry possible rather than the reverse. I don't think 
one can actually attribute all those waves of invasions that shaped the 
language to literary desire, although it's a nice image to think of 
poets leading the invasions, crying "one more synonym!"


>>Bettina said:
>>. . .But the sheer mass of words the English language has (accumulated)
>>e.g. in the field
>>"smile/grin/chuckle/sneer/guffaw/snicker/..." leaves me speechless :-)
>and Elizabeth (Evans, not Bentley) suggested
>>A theory I have heard for this plethora of similes is that it all harks
>>back to the tradition of medieval alliterative poetry, when you had to
>>have a word with the right sounds to fit into the line, and consequently
>>there are lots of words with the same meaning which can be called on to
>(grabs nearest book to hand containing anything alliterative -- J.A. Burrow
>and Thorlac Turville-Petre's *A Book of Middle English* -- in order to find
>an example that doesn't have any thorns and yoghs and things this email
>programme doesn't do)
>It's a lovely theory, but I'm not sure it entirely works.  Alliterative
>poetry is about the initial sound/letter of the word:
>   "And clansyd hom in Cristes nome and kyrkes hom callid;
>        ^              ^                ^          ^
>   He hurlyd owt hor ydols and hade hym in sayntes,
>      ^          ^             ^    ^
>   And chaungit chevely hor nomes and chargit hom better"
>       ^^       ^^                    ^^
>which doesn't really call for more synonymous words than the need for
>rhymes at the end of lines or a strict metric form does.  In any case
>alliteration happened mostly (even if one includes the alliterative
>revival) before the English language got into its stride and started
>chasing other languages down dark alleys and mugging them and going through
>their pockets for their spare words and phrases.  Chaucer (who died in
>1400, which is roughly when the quotation above was probably written) was
>already pretty dismissive about alliteration as being an old-fashioned and
>countrified sort of poetry, and English was only just being recognisably
>English in 1400, really.  It wasn't until a couple of centuries later that
>characters like Shakespeare took to simply coining words to fit not
>alliteration but iambics -- I think he invented about four hundred words,
>or something, some of which (incarnadine!) haven't stuck but lots of which
>have.  The addition of Latinate coinages gave a huge extra vocabulary to
>English, and wasn't really much to do with alliterative verse at all, being
>The other thing English does is have umpteen meanings for the same
>sound/word: look up "fare/fair" some time, or "pink", and marvel.  :-)
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