Season 2 Episode 9

Bugs Bunny, Coca Cola, Pride and Prejudice, Dunkin Donuts, Beauty and the Beast, Dancer in the Dark, Range Rover, Mad Max, Mickey Mouse, Big Brother, PayPal, A Christmas Carol.

Hello, this is Sean, welcome back to Ethos English, the go-to podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them. And no, I haven’t lost my mind – all of those names at the beginning do have something in common. Today I’m going to be talking to you about alliteration and how it can make you a better language learner. No, wait, I’m going to make you a more skillful English speaker. See? That’s alliteration. Skillful speaker. According to Wikipedia “alliteration is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently. Some literary experts accept as alliteration the repetition of vowel sounds, or repetition at the end of words.” 

Apparently alliteration occurs in many languages, including Hungarian, Somali, Icelandic and even American Sign Language. I’m a bit perplexed about American Sign Language, because I don’t know how a sign language can have vowels and consonants. But anyway, today we’re going to be sticking to English. If there are any sign language users out there who have an answer – message me! 

As you know, this season we’re looking at different categories of chunk in English, that is groups of words that we use and understand as a single unit of meaning. Today we’re turning our attention to – ooh, there’s an unintentional bit of alliteration – turn your attention to something, that is focus on something – to alliteration. 

Before I forget, for those of you new to the show, you’ll find the text version and audio player for this episode at 

At the beginning of today’s episode I rattled off, that is, I said very quickly a list of names of everyday examples of alliteration. There were names of characters – Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, brands – Coca Cola, Dunkin Donuts, PayPal, Range Rover, novels – Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, and movies and TV shows – Mad Max, Dancer in the Dark, Big Brother. It’s no coincidence that alliteration is so prevalent, that is common, in English. Neuroscience research has shown that alliteration arouses the brain, that is, it excites the brain and helps us remember information better. I’ve linked to an article in ScienceDaily called The Power Of Peter Piper: How Alliteration Enhances Poetry, Prose, And Memory in the show notes if you want to know more. 

So, whether you’re a copywriter trying to push a product, a novelist trying to evoke emotions or an English student trying to get to grips with the intricacies of English, alliteration is a key concept. Ughh, it’s death by alliteration!

Anyway, moving right along. If I have yet to convince you of the importance of noticing alliteration in English, here are two more reasons to pay attention to alliteration. Firstly, about 20% of expressions in idioms dictionaries contain either rhyme or alliteration. Secondly,  a high number of compound nouns contain alliteration. Here are some examples and how they’re used: baby boom, sweet spot, pity party, back burner

baby boom: an increase in the number of babies born during a particular period, compared to other times – used especially about people born between 1946 and 1964

find a sweet spot: find the particular situation, quality, combination of things, etc. that is the best or most effective 

throw yourself a pity party: According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s a “way of experiencing grief, in which you spend your time feeling sorry for yourself and whining endlessly about how crappy your life is.”

put something on the back burner: delay doing something, because it does not need your attention immediately or because it is not as important as other things that you need to do immediately

If you’re a regular listener you know that the purpose of learning distinct categories of chunk is not just so that you can learn the examples I give you, but also notice – and remember – similar ones that you come across when you’re listening or reading in English.

In learning we often distinguish between rote learning and insightful learning. If you learn by rote, you learn something by repeating it many times, without thinking about it carefully or without understanding it. On the other hand, insightful learning requires you to think carefully about what you’re learning. Say you came across “put something on the back burner” in a newspaper article. Looking up the meaning and writing it down and recording it in a flashcard app like Quizlet would be a good first step, but this on its own is simply rote learning. However, if you notice the alliteration you are more likely to remember this chunk. And, in this case, if you explored the literal meaning of burner, you would find out that it is one of the round parts on the top of a cooker or stove that produce heat. Here the idea is that front cookers are where you cook whatever is most important because it’s more accessible, and conversely the back burner is where you put less important things. Just the process of exploring this cooking metaphor builds up your mental model and makes it far more likely that you will remember and use this expression in your own speaking and writing.

Now, since the Christmas holidays are fast approaching I’ll mention another example of alliteration that is quite common in English. If someone wants to join you in a social activity, let’s say a party, if we want to reassure them that they are indeed welcome to join we often answer with “the more the merrier”. Bear in mind that merry is a synonym for happy, though we rarely use it except in chunks like “the more the merrier” and “merry Christmas”. 

rattle off: say or read aloud very quickly a list of names or things, or something you have learned.

Example: She rattled off the names of the people who were coming to the party.

prevalent: existing very commonly or happening often.

Example: These diseases are more prevalent among young children.

arouse: cause someone to have a particular feeling or to excite – often collocates with interest and suspicion.

Examples: It’s a subject that has aroused a lot of interest. Our suspicions were first aroused when we heard a muffled scream.

get to grips with something: make an effort to understand and deal with a problem or situation.

Example: The president has failed to come to grips with  the two most important social issues of our time. [GET to grips with is also correct]

 baby boom: an increase in the number of babies born during a particular period, compared to other times – used especially about people born between 1946 and 1964. Example: There was a baby boom in the UK and the US after the Second World War.

find a sweet spot: the particular situation, quality, combination of things, etc. that is the best or most effective possible. Example: Ideally, when doing yoga you find a sweet spot where no part of your body feels as if it’s working too hard.

throw yourself a pity party: After his girlfriend broke up with him he threw himself a pity party for a while until his friends told him to pull himself together.

put something on the back burner: If something is put on the back burner, it is temporarily not being dealt with or considered, especially because it is not urgent or important. Example: Governments around the world are putting climate change measures on the back burner as they struggle to bring down inflation.

rote learning / learn something by rote: learning something in order to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than in order to understand it Examples:

Teaching standards are very poor – lots of rote learning and copying notes from the blackboard. She learned multiplication by rote. 

fast approaching: used to describe something which is going to happen very soon

With the new year fast approaching more and more people are thinking about bad habits they want to break. 

the more the merrier: (spoken) used to say that you are happy for other people to join you in what you are doing. Example: “Do you mind if I bring Tony?” “No, of course not. The more the merrier.”

Thanks for listening. Remember that you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to the show notes available at to receive a monthly Quizlet study set of that month’s vocabulary. What’s more, I post content to my Instagram account EthosEnglishWithSean on a regular basis. 

See you again next Monday!

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