Sibilance is the recurrence of a hissing ‘s’ sound which can be effective in prose and poetry. It is sometimes referred to as sigmatism after the Greek letter sigma. Sibilance, as with all types of alliteration, draws emphasis where it is used. Note all the ‘s’ sounds in this extract from John Masefield’s Sea Fever:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
In this case, the sibilance gives a sense of flow, reflecting the movement of waves in the sea. It makes it very pleasing to read aloud – give it a try!
Sibilance is used commonly to draw people’s attention or admonish them (sssshhh!). Therefore, we know that it is an intense sound and can thus add this intensity to a piece of writing. A good example of this can be found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: ‘The smell of sweetest victory swirled in his nostrils, overpowering the stale smell of battered bodies that lay underfoot.’ Here it also helps to highlight the contrast of the ‘stale’ and ‘sweet’ smells, using this phonological pattern to encourage the reader to associate the two descriptions.
Can you think of any other good examples of sibilance? Tell me in the comments!
Please do like and share if this has been an edifying read. Thank you!