power your advice

Spoonerisms, Malapropisms and Figurative Language, OH MY!

With all the content out there these days, how can you separate yourself from other content providers? How do you make your writing stand out? Why should people read your work? Is it worth their time?

There’s no doubt that good marketing helps to get people’s eyeballs. If people have a favorable impression of you as a writer to begin with, there’s a better chance they’ll be receptive to your work. But, in many ways, the best marketing you can do for your craft – whether you write books, poems, articles or blog posts – is to be downright good. Ben Franklin said “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” As it turns out, he knew not only writing, but also entrepreneurship.

How would people describe your writing style? Direct? Humorous? Informative? Crafty? Sarcastic? Subtle? What devices do you use so your writing differs from all the “noise” out there?

The English language can be a lot of fun. There are some interesting devices you can employ when crafting poetry or prose that add pizazz to your composition. Here are a few:


Alliteration is when the same sound or letter is used at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Examples include “busy as a bee,” “dead as a doornail,” and “fit as a fiddle.”


Rhyme, as most people know, is when the words correspond to one another from an acoustic standpoint. In other words, the sound is repeated. Here’s an example from Tennyson’s poem, The Eagle . The first stanza reads:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

Most (but not all) poems use rhyme to some effect.


There are five rhythms in poetry. Rhythm deals with the sounds that are stressed – as opposed to unstressed. Take the word “today,” for example. The rhythm is buh BUH. The first syllable is unstressed and the second one is stressed.

Many readers and/or writers may recognize this as an iamb (as in iambic pentameter). Pent meaning five, iambic pentameter is when this happens five times in a row. So it comes across as Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. One of the most famous lines of iambic pentameter is from Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo says “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks.” The human heart beats in this rhythm.

Other devices include spoonerisms, malapropisms and figurative language. While you might not want to incorporate them into your writing, it is nevertheless a good idea to be familiar with them, if only for language’s sake.


A spoonerism is the transposition of initial sounds of words in a phrase. It was named after William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), a British clergyman and educator. He spoke in public a lot and often got tongue tied. He would say things like “a blushing crow” when he meant “a crushing blow.” Another example is “The queer old dean” – instead of the “dear old queen.”


A malapropism is the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar sounding one, often with unintentional comedic effect (think Archie Bunker). It was introduced in the play The Rivals , which had a character named Mrs. Malaprop. Sheridan took the character’s name from the French term mal à propos , meaning “inappropriate . ” An example of a malapropism is when someone says “That was a mute point,” when what they meant was that it was a moot point. It is similar to a Freudian slip, which is an error that reveals someone’s subconscious mind.

Figurative Language

Figurative language is best exemplified when a word or phrase is given a specific meaning other than the literal definition. An example is “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” Obviously, it isn’t meant literally.

Are you appealing to the senses by using figurative language?

Instead of being superfluous, sometimes you can be more descriptive by using these or other literary devices. Personally, I love the way David Feherty describes Jim Furyk ’s golf swing. He says it is like “an octopus falling out of a tree.”

What literary devices are you using? You may be using some and not even realizing it. Are you just slapping words together – or are you tapping into your readers’ senses?

Say it with style and tap into their senses!

What are some of your favorite phrases?