- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) rhetorical alliteration taken to an extreme or distracting level
Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation (1813)
Everyone knows that alliteration is a literary and rhetorical tool in which a chain of neighbouring (or near-neighbouring) words or syllables are arranged in such a way that they begin with the same sound. It’s a ploy that can transform a line of verse or public discourse into a much more memorable and punchy affair.
Sometimes, however, things can be taken too far. If every single word (or almost every word) over a protracted length of text begins with the same sound, then alliteration can become distracting or even annoying to a reader or audience. At this point, it’s no longer a rhetorical tool but a rhetorical vice—namely, a stylistic or literary feature that should be avoided in better writing. In this instance, we’re no longer dealing with alliteration, but with paroemion.
The word paroemion, or paromoion (pronounced “pa-ra-me-on”) dates from the 1500s in English, but like most rhetorical terms has its roots firmly planted in the Latin and Greek of antiquity. This term in particular can be traced back to the Greek words for ‘near’ and ‘like’—hence its association with similar proximate sounds in an alliterative passage of text.
Annoying, protracted alliteration like this is also sometimes known as homoeoprophoron—another rhetorical vice whose name essentially means ‘carrying alike’ in Greek.