Classical English Style - Ward Farnsworth


Rhetorical devices (anaphora, Homeric simile) taken from 19th century politcal speeches and literature.

indicative quotes

These features of Saxon and Latinate words are just tendencies. Some Latinate words, such as brave or fact or catch or count, sound Saxon. So it's a mistake to go hunting for a Saxon word. It isn't always easy to tell which words are which; if you want a word that has Saxon qualities, you are better just picking one that is simple and concreate rather than fussing over its eytmology -- for no one cares about its eytmology. [page 5]

why bother?

Having names for these rhetorical moves helps better identify them and then use them in your own writing.

Also, many of the examples come from previous centuries; it's worthwhile to see alternatives to our present styles of writing, which we may otherwise take to be natural.


right-branching sentence: begins with topic and follows with comment; less work for the reader

His family is nothing but bills, dirt, waste, noise, tumbles downstairs, confusion, and wretchedness [page 78, quoting Dickens]

left-branching sentence: begins with comment and follows with topic

Therefore, when I saw so much nervous apprehension that, if I were permitted to speak -- when I found they were afraid to have me speak -- when I found that they considered my speaking damaging to their cause -- when I found that they appealed from facts and reasonings to mob law -- I said, no man need tell me what the heart and secret counsel of these men are. They tremble and they are afraid. [page 87, quoting Beecher]

Homeric simile: deluge of similes to paint a picture [Farnsworth english style 62]

[of the US South] One thinks of the interstellar spaces, of the colossal reaches of the now mythical ether. Nearly the whole of Europe could be lost in that stupendous region of fat farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums; one could throw in France, Germany and Italy, and still have room for the British Isles.

anaphora: consecutive sentences begun in the same way

The manner in which the account opens shows it to be traditionary. It begins abruptly. It is nobody that speaks. It is nobody that hears. It is addressed to nobody. It has neither first, second, nor third person. It has every criterion of being a tradition. It has no voucher. [page 70, quoting Paine]

isocolon: clauses similar in length and parallel in structure

render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's / and unto God the things that are God's [page 139, quoting Matthew 22:21]

chiasmus: reversed structure

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildlings shape us. [quoting Churchill]

anacoluthon: change grammatical structure mid-sentence

Had ye been there – for what could that have done? [page 100, quoting Milton's Lycidas]

Saxon finish: end sentence on Saxon word/phrase; more authoritative

Diseases desperate grown / By desperate appliance are relieved, / Or not at all [page 23, quoting Shakespeare's Hamlet 4.3]

Latinate finish: end sentence on Latiate word/phrase; feeling of grandeur

Yet I'll not shed her blood / Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, / And smooth as monumental alabaster [page 25, quoting Shakespeare's Othello 5.3]

Latinate words lend themselves to comedy (this mode seems more prominent in British rather than American comedy)

I am fully aware of the deep concern felt by the Honorable Member in many matters above his comprehension [page 40, quoting Churchill]


I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all another. [page 34, quoting Lincoln]


That night - that first night of separation from my wife - how it passed, I know not; I know only that it passed. [102, de Quincey]


When my eyes were opened to his real character - Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared to do! [101, Austen]

short sentences to punctuate long sentences

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. [page 66, quoting Paine]

exclamatory fragments for emotional intensity

To break up this great government! to dismember this glorious country! to astonish Europe with an act of folly such as Europe for two centuries has never beheld in any government or any people! No, sir! no, sir! There will be no secession! [110, Webster]

parentheticals for greater intimacy

The lesser fellow -- and Wells, for all his cleverness, is surely one of the lesser fellows -- is bound to come of grief at it. [page 108, quoting Mencken]

a list of subjects as a synonym for everything/life itself

Books, love, business, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion, money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life close to Belgrave Square, are every one of them passionately maintained by somebody to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise indefensible world [page 84, quoting Chesterton]

movement from weaker to stronger

For whatsoever a man soweth / that shall he also reap [page 138, quoting Galatians 6.7]

Every kingdom dividied against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. [page 139, quoting Matthew 22:21]

movement from stronger to weaker

Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told to you from the beginning? [quoting Isaiah 40.21]

Originality consists in thinking for yourself, not in thinking differently from other people. [quoting James Fitzjames Stephens]