Words at Play

Pop Rhetoric: Our Favorites

User-submitted examples of rhetorical devices in pop songs

microphone on stage

Recently we set a challenge to our followers on Twitter: each week we'd give them a different rhetorical device and they'd send us their favorite song lyrics that use it.

The results have been (of course) stellar. Here are some of our favorites that we've received so far.

man in werewolf mask drinking orange juice

Definition:
the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables

An Example:
"Little old lady got mutilated late last night"
— Warren Zevon, "Werewolves of London"

Our Favorites:
“Helplessly hoping
her harlequin hovers nearby”
— Crosby, Stills & Nash, "Helplessly Hoping"
submitted by Mark

"I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king"
— Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"
submitted by Toi

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”
— Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"
submitted by Barbara

close up of piano keys

Definition:
repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses

An Example:
"I got rhythm
I got music
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?"
— George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, "I Got Rhythm"

Our Favorites:
"You thought I wouldn't grow without you, but I'm wiser
You thought that I'd be helpless without you, but I'm smarter
You thought that I'd be stressed without you, but I'm chillin'
You thought I wouldn't sell without you, sold nine million"
— Destiny's Child, "Survivor"
submitted by Joan

"For you, dear, I was born
For you I was raised up
For you I’ve lived and for you I will die
For you I am dying now"
— Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Far From Me"
submitted by Nell

"Maybe I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you
Maybe I'm amazed at the the way you pulled me out of time
And hung me on a line
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you
— Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed"
submitted by Ben

freestanding rock island in bay

Definition:
a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show or suggest that they are similar

An Example:
"I am a rock
I am an island"
— Simon & Garfunkel, "I Am a Rock"

Our Favorites:
"Your heart was glass, I dropped it
Champagne problems"
— Taylor Swift, "champagne problems"
submitted by Janine

“All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall”
— Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall"
submitted by downinBowery

"You're an accident waiting to happen
You're a piece of glass left there on a beach"
— U2, "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?"
submitted by Astra

hand holding door open

Definition:
the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense

An Example:
"You held your breath and the door for me"
— Alanis Morissette, "Head Over Feet"

Our Favorites:
“She blew my nose and then she blew my mind”
— The Rolling Stones, "Honky Tonk Women"
submitted by Craig

"I'm a thousand miles from anywhere
My pocketbook and my heart both just got stolen"
— Jewel, "Down So Long"
submitted by Elizabeth

hundred-dollar bills floating in air

Definition:
an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases

An Example:
"With my mind on my money and my money on my mind"
— Snoop Dogg, "Gin and Juice"

Our Favorites:
"Don't waste your time or time will waste you"
— Muse, "Knights of Cydonia"
submitted by Brent

"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with"
— Stephen Stills, "Love the One You're With"
submitted by Ashwani

spotlight

Definition:
a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by 'like' or 'as'

An Example:
"In the way those eyes I've always loved illuminate this place
Like a trashcan fire in a prison cell
Like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell"
— The Mountain Goats, "Old College Try"

Our Favorites:
"Like a bird on a wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free"
— Leonard Cohen, "Bird on the Wire"
submitted by Egbert

"Smooth like butter,
Like a criminal undercover"
— BTS, "Butter"
submitted by cpnqn

"You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again"
— John Denver, "Annie's Song"
submitted by Monse

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