is a literary
or rhetorical stylistic
that consists in repeating the same consonant
sound at the beginning of several words
in close succession. An example is the Mother Goose tongue-twister
, "Peter Piper
picked a peck of
are types of
, alliteration may also refer to
repetition of a consonant in any syllables that, according to the
, are stressed as if they
occurred at the beginning of a word, as in James Thomson
's verse "Come…dragging
Apostrophoe alliteration is usually distinguished from the mere
repetition of the same sound in positions other than the beginning
of each word — whether a consonant, as in "som
) or a vowel, as in
the term is sometimes used in these broader senses. Alliteration
may also include the use of different consonants with similar
, etc.) or even the unwritten
that precedes virtually
every word-initial vowel in the English
, as in the phrase "A
id" (despite the unique pronunciation of the "a"
in each word) .
Alliteration is commonly used in many languages, especially in
poetry. Alliterative verse
important ingredient of poetry in Old
and other old Germanic
such as Old High
, Old Norse
, and Old Saxon
. On the other hand, its accidental
occurrence is often viewed as a defect.
Usage in English
Literature and poetry
The relative formal accessibility of alliteration makes it one of
the most commonly used literary tools in English
, tracing its origins back to Old
English and its ancestral languages. Old Germanic poetry was mostly
in the form of alliterative verse that relied heavily on consonance
akandycend assonance rather than rhyme
example of Old English alliterative
, is this passage from the famous poem Beowulf
:Statistical analysis of alliteration
use in a Thomas Churchyard
was used in order to correctly date it in relation to his other
works. Statistics can also fuel debates on whether alliterations in
literary works were included by chance or by the author’s volition,
as in a recent study of 100 Shakespearian sonnets
Alliteration still seems to maintain an important, though perhaps
more subtle, part in contemporary English poetry. Books aimed at
young readers often use alliteration, as it consistently captures
children's interest, as the "powerful Poo-A-Doo powder" and the
"Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo" in Dr. Seuss
The Butter Battle
Among contemporary literature, crime fiction writer James Ellroy
employed alliteration extensively
in the second volume of his Underworld USA Trilogy
, The Cold Six Thousand
with the novel's hard-boiled tabloid style.
Alliteration survives most obviously in modern English in magazine
article titles, advertisements and business names, comic strip or
cartoon characters, and common expressions:
- Comics/cartoons and characters: Beetle
Bailey, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Phineas and Ferb, and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.
Stan Lee has stated that he used
alliteration extensively when naming his superhero characters
because such names stand out and are more memorable (eg Scott Summers, Peter
Parker, Sue Storm and many others).
V for Vendetta is famous for the
self-introductory monologue by the title character, a few
paragraphs long, that consists almost entirely of words starting
with the letter V.
- Magazine articles: “Science has Spoiled my Supper”, “Too Much
Talent in Tennessee?”, and "Kurdish Control of Kirkuk Creates a
Powder Keg in Iraq"
- Children's Books: Animalia by Graeme
Base is a famous example of alliteration within a storybook.
- Shops: "Coffee Corner", "Sushi Station", "Best Buy".
- Expressions: "busy as a bee", "dead as a doornail", "good as
gold", "right as rain", etc..
- Music: CSNY's Helplessly Hoping,
Franz Ferdinand, Blackalicious's Alphabet Aerobics.
Within Tupac Shakur's song If I Die 2
Nite, the lyrics consist of alliteration mostly with "P" beginning
words, sometimes replaced by "C" or "K".
- Names and pseudonyms: Ronald Reagan, Alex
Adams, Rodney Rude, Marilyn Monroe.
- Sports Teams: Seattle Seahawks,
Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Lakers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Bruins,
- Dominic Deegan has also been
known to do this from time to time.
Old English names
Another use of alliteration in Old English, outside the literary
sphere, is found in personal name giving. This is evidenced by
the unbroken series of 9th century kings of Wessex named
Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, and Æthelred.
These were followed in
the 10th century by their direct descendants Æthelstan
and Æthelred II
, who ruled as kings of
. The Anglo-Saxon
saints Tancred, Torhtred and Tova
provide a similar example, among siblings
A well-known modern example of alliteration in name giving is the
- Hieatt, Constance B., 'Alliterative Patterns in the Hypermetric
Lines of Old English Verse', in Modern Philology Vol. 71,
No. 3. (Feb. 1974), pp. 237
- Shirley, Charles G, Jr. "Alliteration as Evidence in Dating a
Poem of Thomas Churchyard: An Exploratory Computer-Aided Study".
Modern Philology, Vol. 76, No. 4. (May, 1979), pp.
- Stoll, Elmer E. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 55, No. 5.
(May, 1940), pp. 388-390.
- Coard, Robert L. Wide-Ranging Alliteration. Peabody
Journal of Education, Vol. 37, No. 1. (Jul., 1959),pp. 30-32.
- Wylie, Philip G. Science has Spoiled my Supper.
Atlantic Magazine, April 1954.
- Dykeman, Wilma: Too Much Talent in Tennessee? Harper's
Magazine, 210 (Mar 1955): 48-53.
- Oppel, Richard A. Kurdish Control of Kirkuk Creates a
Powder Keg in Iraq. New York Times. 
- Gelling, M., Signposts to the Past (2nd edition),
Phillimore, 1988, pp. 163-4.
- Old English "Æthel" translates to modern English "noble". For
further examples of alliterative Anglo-Saxon royal names, including
the use of only alliterative first letters, see e.g. Yorke, B.,
Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, Seaby,
1990, Table 13 (p. 104; Mercia, names beginning with "C", "M", and "P"), and
pp. 142-3 (Wessex, names beginning with "C"). For discussion of the
origins and purposes of Anglo-Saxon "king lists" (or "regnal
lists"), see e.g. Dumville, D.N., 'Kingship, Genealogies and Regnal
Lists', in Sawyer, P.H. & Wood, I.N. (eds.), Early Medieval
Kingship, University of Leeds, 1977.
- Rollason, D.W., 'Lists of Saints' resting-places in Anglo-Saxon
England', in Anglo-Saxon England 7, 1978, p. 91.