Alliteration: repetition of the same sound beginning several words in sequence.

  • Let us go forth to lead the land we love. J. F. Kennedy, Inaugural
  • bee in your bonnet
  • Thank You for the Thistle
  • Veni, vidi, vici. Julius Caesar

Anacoluthon: lack of grammatical sequence; a change in the grammatical construction within the same sentence.

  • Agreements entered into when one state of facts exists — are they to be maintained regardless of changing conditions? J. Diefenbaker
  • Had ye been there — for what could that have done? (John Milto in Lycidas)

Anadiplosis: (“doubling back”) the rhetorical repetition of one or several words; specifically, repetition of a word that ends one clause at the beginning of the next.

  • Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business. Francis Bacon
  • “For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas and hath not left his peer. —John Milton,
  • “Queeg: ‘Aboard my ship, excellent performance is standard. Standard performance is sub-standard. Sub-standard performance is not permitted to exist.’” —Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny.
  • “Having power makes [totalitarian leadership] isolated; isolation breeds insecurity; insecurity breeds suspicion and fear; suspicion and fear breed violence.” —Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Permanent Purge: Politics in Soviet Totalitarianism

Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or lines.

  • We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. Churchill.
  • What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
— William Blake, ““

Anastrophe: transposition of normal word order; most often found in Latin in the case of prepositions and the words they control. Anastrophe is a form of hyperbaton.

  • The helmsman steered; the ship moved on; yet never a breeze up blew. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Yoda from the Star Wars series commonly uses anastrophe.
Told you, I did. Reckless is he. Now matters are worse.”
“Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.
“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

Antistrophe: repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses.

  • In 1931, ten years ago, Japan invaded Manchukuo — without warning. In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia — without warning. In 1938, Hitler occupied Austria — without warning. In 1939, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia — without warning. Later in 1939, Hitler invaded Poland — without warning. And now Japan has attacked Malaya and Thailand — and the United States –without warning. Franklin D. Roosevelt

It has the nature of a reply and balances the effect of the strophe. Thus, in Gray‘s ode called “The Progress of Poesy” (excerpt below), the strophe, which dwelt in triumphant accents on the beauty, power and ecstasy verse, is answered by the antistrophe, in a depressed and melancholy key:

  • “Man’s feeble race what ills await,
Labour, and Penury, the racks of Pain ,
Disease and Sorrow’s weeping Train,
And Death, sad refuge from the storms of Fate,” etc.

Antithesis: opposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.

  • Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Barry Goldwater
  • Brutus: Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
  • The vases of the classical period are but the reflection of classical beauty; the vases of the archaic period are beauty itself.” Sir John Beazley
  • “When there is need of silence, you speak, and when there is need of speech, you are dumb; when you are present, you wish to be absent, and when absent, you desire to be present; in peace you are for war, and in war you long for peace; in council you descant on bravery, and in the battle you tremble.”

Antithesis is sometimes double or alternate, as in the appeal of Augustus:

  • Listen, young men, to an old man to whom old men were glad to listen when he was young.”

Some other examples of antithesis are:

A) Man proposes, God disposes.
B) Give everyman thy ear, but few thy voice.
C) Many are called, but few are chosen.

Aporia: expression of doubt (often feigned) by which a speaker appears uncertain as to what he should think, say, or do.

  • Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do?’ Luke 16
  • (Demosthenes On The Crown, 129):   I am at no loss for information about you and your family; but I am at a loss where to begin. Shall I relate how your father Tromes was a slave in the house of Elpias, who kept an elementary school near the Temple of Theseus, and how he wore shackles on his legs and a timber collar round his neck? or how your mother practised daylight nuptials in an outhouse next door to Heros the bone-setter, and so brought you up to act in tableaux vivants and to excel in minor parts on the stage?

Aposiopesis: a form of ellipse by which a speaker comes to an abrupt halt, seemingly overcome by passion (fear, excitement, etc.) or modesty.

  • A more modern example of aposiopesis occurs in Mark Twain‘s Tom Sawyer: “Well, I lay if I get a hold of you I’ll—.”
  • A biblical example is found in Psalm 27, verse 13. The Hebrew, written by King David (c. 1005–965 BCE), says in English: “Unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living . . . ” The implication is that David does not know what he would have done.

Apostrophe: a sudden turn from the general audience to address a specific group or person or personified abstraction absent or present.

  • For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel. Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Archaism: use of an older or obsolete form.

  • Pipit sate upright in her chair
  • Some distance from where I was sitting; T. S. Eliot, “A Cooking Egg”

Assonance: repetition of the same sound in words close to each other.

  • Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
  • Hear the mellow wedding bells — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Bells“
  • And murmuring of innumerable bees — Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess VII.203
  • O fortunatam natam me consule Romam! Cicero, de consulatu

Asyndeton: lack of conjunctions between coordinate phrases, clauses, or words.

  • We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. J. F. Kennedy, Inaugural
  • But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Brachylogy: a general term for abbreviated or condensed expression, of which asyndeton and zeugma are types. Ellipse is often used synonymously. The suppressed word or phrase can usually be supplied easily from the surrounding context.

  • the omission of “good” in “good morning”
  • Aeolus haec contra: Vergil, Aeneid
  • Non Cinnae, non Sullae longa dominatio. Tacitus, Annales I.1

Cacophony: harsh joining of sounds.

  • We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will. W. Churchill
  • Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti! Ennius

Catachresis: a harsh metaphor involving the use of a word beyond its strict sphere.

  • I listen vainly, but with thirsty ear. MacArthur, Farewell Address
  • Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis. Propertius I.1.1

Chiasmus: two corresponding pairs arranged not in parallels (a-b-a-b) but in inverted order (a-b-b-a); from shape of the Greek letter chi (X).

  • Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always. MacArthur
  • Renown’d for conquest, and in council skill’d. Addison et pacis ornamenta et subsidia belli. Cicero, Pro lege Manilia
  • Plato, Republic 494e

Climax: arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in an order of ascending power. Often the last emphatic word in one phrase or clause is repeated as the first emphatic word of the next.

*One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Tennyson, Ulysses
*Nonne hunc in vincula duci, non ad mortem rapi, non summo supplicio mactari imperabis? Cicero, In Catilinam
*Facinus est vincere civem Romanum; scelus verberare; prope parricidium necare: quid dicam in crucem tollere? verbo satis digno tam nefaria res appellari nullo modo potest. Cicero, In Verrem
*Demosthenes, On the Crown 179

Euphemism: substitution of an agreeable or at least non-offensive expression for one whose plainer meaning might be harsh or unpleasant.

  • When the final news came, there would be a ring at the front door — a wife in this situation finds herself staring at the front door as if she no longer owns it or controls it–and outside the door would be a man… come to inform her that unfortunately something has happened out there, and her husband’s body now lies incinerated in the swamps or the pines or the palmetto grass, “burned beyond recognition,” which anyone who had been around an air base very long (fortunately Jane had not) realized was quite an artful euphemism to describe a human body that now looked like an enormous fowl that has burned up in a stove, burned a blackish brown all over, greasy and blistered, fried, in a word, with not only the entire face and all the hair and the ears burned off, not to mention all the clothing, but also the hands and feet, with what remains of the arms and legs bent at the knees and elbows and burned into absolutely rigid angles, burned a greasy blackish brown like the bursting body itself, so that this husband, father, officer, gentleman, this ornamentum of some mother’s eye, His Majesty the Baby of just twenty-odd years back, has been reduced to a charred hulk with wings and shanks sticking out of it. Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

Hendiadys: use of two words connected by a conjunction, instead of subordinating one to the other, to express a single complex idea.

  • It sure is nice and cool today! (for “pleasantly cool”)
  • I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Psalms 116
  • Perfecti oratoris moderatione et sapientia. Cicero, De oratore

Hypallage: (“exchanging”) transferred epithet; grammatical agreement of a word with another word which it does not logically qualify. More common in poetry.

  • Exegi monumentum aere perennius regalique situ pyramidum altius, Horace, Odes III.30

Hyperbaton: separation of words which belong together, often to emphasize the first of the separated words or to create a certain image.

  • “Bloody thou art; bloody will be thy end” – William Shakespeare in Richard III, 4.4, 198.
  • “Object there was none. Passion there was none.” –Edgar Allan Poe<, The Tell-Tale Heart.
  • “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” – Attributed[2] to Winston Churchill criticizing and satirizing the prescriptivist rule of not ending a sentence with a preposition.
  • Speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem Vergil, Aeneid 4.124, 165

Hyperbole: exaggeration for emphasis or for rhetorical effect.

*My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should got to praise
Thine eyes and on thine forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest. Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

*Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
Dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
Deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum. Catullus, to his.

Hysteron Proteron (“later-earlier”): inversion of the natural sequence of events, often meant to stress the event which, though later in time, is considered the more important.

*”I like the island Manhattan. Smoke on your pipe and put that in.” — from the song “America,” West Side Story lyric by Stephen Sondheim (submitted per litteram by guest rhetorician Anthony Scelba)
*Put on your shoes and socks!
*Hannibal in Africam redire atque Italia decedere coactus est. Cicero, In Catilinam

Irony: expression of something which is contrary to the intended meaning; the words say one thing but mean another.

  • Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Litotes: understatement, for intensification, by denying the contrary of the thing being affirmed. (Sometimes used synonymously with meiosis.)

  • A few unannounced quizzes are not inconceivable.
  • War is not healthy for children and other living things.
  • One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day. (meiosis)

Metaphor: implied comparison achieved through a figurative use of words; the word is used not in its literal sense, but in one analogous to it.

  • Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
  • That struts and frets his hour upon the stage. Shakespeare, Macbeth. . . while he learned the language (that meager and fragile thread . . . by which the little surface corners and edges of men’s secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness. . . ) Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
  • From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. W. Churchill

Metonymy: substitution of one word for another which it suggests.

  • He is a man of the cloth.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • By the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread.

Onomatopoeia: use of words to imitate natural sounds; accommodation of sound to sense.

  • For animal sounds, words like quack , bark (dog), roar (lion) and meow (cat) are typically used in English.

Oxymoron: apparent paradox achieved by the juxtaposition of words which seem to contradict one another.

  • I must be cruel only to be kind. Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Dark sunshine
  • Happy depression

Paradox: an assertion seemingly opposed to common sense, but that may yet have some truth in it.The term is also used for an apparent contradiction that actually expresses a non-dual truth (cf. kōan, Catuskoti). Typically, the statements in question do not really imply the contradiction, the puzzling result is not really a contradiction, or the premises themselves are not all really true or cannot all be true together.

  • What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young. George Bernard Shaw
  • I can resist anything except temptation- Wilde
  • spies do not look like spies- Chesterton

Paraprosdokian: surprise or unexpected ending of a phrase or series.

  • He was at his best when the going was good. Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor
  • There but for the grace of God — goes God. Churchill
  • Laudandus, ornandus, tollendus. Cicero on Octavian

Paronomasia: use of similar sounding words; often etymological word-play.

  • …culled cash, or cold cash, and then it turned into a gold cache. E.L. Doctorow, Billy Bathgate
  • Thou art Peter (Greek petros), and upon this rock (Greek petra) I shall build my church. Matthew 16
  • The dying Mercutio: Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Personification: attribution of personality to an impersonal thing.

  • England expects every man to do his duty. Lord Nelson

Pleonasm: use of superfluous or redundant words, often enriching the thought.

  • No one, rich or poor, will be excepted.
  • Ears pierced while you wait!
  • I have seen no stranger sight since I was born.

Polysyndeton: the repetition of conjunctions in a series of coordinate words, phrases, or clauses.

  • I said, “Who killed him?” and he said, “I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,” and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Bay and she was all right only she was full of water. Hemingway, After the Storm

Praeteritio (=paraleipsis): pretended omission for rhetorical effect.

  • *That part of our history detailing the military achievements which gave us our several possessions … is a theme too familiar to my listeners for me to dilate on, and I shall therefore pass it by. Thucydides, “Funeral Oration”
  • *Let us make no judgment on the events of Chappaquiddick, since the facts are not yet all in. A political opponent of Senator Edward Kennedy

Prolepsis: the anticipation, in adjectives or nouns, of the result of the action of a verb; also, the positioning of a relative clause before its antecedent.

  • Consider the lilies of the field how they grow.

Simile: an explicit comparison between two things using ‘like’ or ‘as’.

  • My love is as a fever, longing still For that which longer nurseth the disease, Shakespeare, Sonnet CXLVII
  • Reason is to faith as the eye to the telescope. D. Hume [?]
  • Let us go then, you and I, While the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherized upon a table… T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Syllepsis: use of a word with two others, with each of which it is understood differently.

  • We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately. Benjamin Franklin

Synchysis: interlocked word order.

*aurea purpuream subnectit fibula vestem Vergil, Aeneid 4.139

Synecdoche: understanding one thing with another; the use of a part for the whole, or the whole for the part. (A form of metonymy.)

  • Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6
  • I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  • The U.S. won three gold medals. (Instead of, The members of the U.S. boxing team won three gold medals.)

Synesis (=constructio ad sensum): the agreement of words according to logic, and not by the grammatical form; a kind of anacoluthon.

  • For the wages of sin is death. Romans 6
  • Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. Acts 6

Tautology: repetition of an idea in a different word, phrase, or sentence.

  • With malice toward none, with charity for all. Lincoln, Second Inaugural

Zeugma: two different words linked to a verb or an adjective which is strictly appropriate to only one of them.

  • Nor Mars his sword, nor war’s quick fire shall burn The living record of your memory.

Originally complied by Ernest Ament of Wayne State University

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