Alliteration in English-Language Versions of Current Widespread European Idioms and Proverbs

  • Fionnuala Carson Williams


This chapter looks in a quantitative way at the frequency and kinds of alliteration caused by the repetition of a sound in adjacent words, or words close together, in idioms and proverbs, usually the sound of initial consonants, a feature which has been long-standing in both of them. It compares what is found in idioms with what is found in proverbs. The chapter first gives a few examples of the contemporary use of alliteration in idioms in advertisements, the media, and so on, and discusses its relative effectiveness. It then turns to corpora of European idioms and proverbs which have been identified as current and widespread. It draws attention to the fact that, within them in English, many of the proverbs contain rhyme, whereas only one idiom does. Other remarks note that all of these idioms with alliteration end with a noun and that in most cases the final noun is part of the alliteration. Stress is also significant in the placing of alliteration in idioms and usually falls on that last noun and the word with the matching sound. Various patterns in the alliteration are analysed and the commonest sounds for it are analysed. In the corpus of idioms under consideration although only about 13 per cent contain alliteration it is the most consistent feature. On the other hand, in the body of proverbs examined, alliteration is more than twice as common, partly, no doubt, because proverbs are generally longer than idioms and thus provide greater opportunities for it. Another difference in the alliteration between idioms and proverbs is that the proverbs also show more variety in the kinds of alliteration used. A few of the items considered here occur as both idioms and proverbs and the alliteration remains constant in both forms. While the emphasis in this essay is on English-language idioms and proverbs, it makes a few comparisons with French and German versions. The conclusion of the findings is that while alliteration is a feature in varying degrees of both these corpora of proverbs and idioms it is the most consistent stylistic feature of these idioms and is therefore particularly significant.


Initial Sound Adjacent Word Initial Consonant Twister Effect Matching Sound 
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© Fionnuala Carson Williams 2011

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  • Fionnuala Carson Williams

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