From Bugs Bunny to Peppa Pig: Did you know these alliterations are used in pop culture?

Children who read get used to alliteration pretty easily, because their stories are full of characters with alliterative names

By Shashi Tharoor

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Published: Thu 20 Jul 2023, 7:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 20 Jul 2023, 7:24 PM

In the days when I was a regular writer of fiction, critics noted my fondness for alliteration — a literary device that repeats, in two or more nearby words, their initial consonant sounds. For alliteration to be an effective technique, alliterative words should flow in quick succession, and ideally catch the reader’s or listener’s attention. We all do this in everyday speech: expressions like “big business”, “money matters”, “picture perfect”, “high heaven”, “tough talk”, “quick question” and “no nonsense” are alliterations that are routine in conversation. And our daily life offers alliterations all around us: Coca Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hip Hop, Rainbow Room, Weight Watchers. You get the idea.

Literature abounds in alliteration, from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” to Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”. Shakespeare’s play As You Like It has the lines: “And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind/ Which, when it bites and blows upon my body.” Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner uses alliteration too: “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew/ The furrow followed free.” Robert Frost’s Acquainted with the Night offers the memorable alliteration “stood still and stopped the sound”. E. E. Cummings’ poem All in green went my love riding includes the line “Softer be they than slippered sleep the lean lithe deer the fleet flown deer.”

Children who read get used to alliteration pretty easily, because their stories are full of characters with alliterative names, which tend to be more enjoyable and memorable: Lois Lane, Peter Parker, Bugs Bunny, Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse, Miss Muffet, Wonder Woman and best of all (since it involves three alliterations) Wicked Witch of the West. In fact, Walt Disney was an ace at the game: he not only gave Mickey Mouse a sister named Minnie Mouse, but a whole string of alliterative Ducks followed, in Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Daffy Duck and so on.

Alliterations can be fun to devise and even more fun to employ, but there are a couple of ground rules. It’s not about repeating the consonant letters that begin words, but rather repeating the consonant sounds. So “kissing cousins” is an alliteration, though the two words begin with different letters, but “phony people” is not, even though both words begin with the same consonant, because the initial consonant sounds are different.

Second rule: have as many words as possible follow each other in quick succession. Two is everyday, even humdrum; three or more makes people sit up and take notice. And while the longer alliterative phrases may be forced to accommodate prepositions or articles beginning with other letters, you must keep them to a minimum; if there are too many non-alliterative words in between, then the literary device doesn’t work.

Now that we have dispensed with the basics, here are some famous examples of alliteration, mostly not of my own devising:

*Slowly the slug started up the steep surface, stringing behind it scribble sparkling like silk.

*The chilling cold almost chopped him apart.

*The ship sailed smoothly but sadly sank like a submarine.

* Sam saw Susie sitting in a shoeshine shop.

* Nine nice night nurses nursing nicely.

*My counters and cupboards were completely cleared of carrot cake, cornbread and crackers.

* Four fine fresh fish for you.

*Lesser leather never weathered wetter weather better.

*Claire, close your cluttered closet.

*The big bad bear bored the baby bunnies by the bushes.

*Go and gather the green leaves on the grass.

*Please put away your paints and practice the piano.

*The boy buzzed around as busy as a bee.

*Garry grumpily gathered the garbage.

*Lazy lizards are lying like lumps on the leaves.

*Paula planted the pretty pink poppies in the pepper-pot.

*Little Larry likes licking the sticky lollipop.

If these alliterations have caught your fancy, we will take the process a step farther next week, as we examine a specific challenge — alliterative tongue-twisters. Everyone’s heard of “She sells seashells by the seashore”, but it can get more complicated than that. Stay tuned!

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