James J. Kilpatrick

Similes and metaphors are not the only devices in a writer's little bag of tricks. Sometimes a well-placed pun will light up a paragraph. Larry Millson of the Toronto Globe and Mail was writing last summer about the Yankees' three losses to Detroit: "And, of course, the Alex Rodriguez saga figures to go yawn and yawn."

Alliteration is a lovely device, but it is the garlic of style: A little goes a very long way. A book critic in The New York Times was pushing the outer limits last month in a review of a biography of the mythical James Bond. When he was not pursuing villains, the British agent was romancing "a bevy of beauteous babes." Or perhaps a galaxy of glamorous girls? Or a couch of consanguineous cuties? On second thought, probably not.

Stick with familiar elements! Bernard Holland of the Times was writing a few weeks ago about conductor Kurt Masur's return to New York with the London Philharmonic. In his time as music director of the New York Philharmonic, "Mr. Masur was received as something of a drill sergeant in charge of a wayward platoon, a kind of bitter medicine designed to purge the orchestra of its loose ways." This may have been a mixing of more-or-less metaphors with semi-similes, but it worked.

On that cheerful note, we suspend for some seasonal sustenance. May all your similes succeed in ought-ought-seven!

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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