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#11 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.
It's been a while, hasn't it?


Literally, something like "equal member". (Stop sniggering at the back there!)

Means: composing a sentence from elements of the same length and structure.
Examples: the classic example is Veni, vidi, vici -- which also demonstrates alliteration of course. How clever. In English you don't get that, but I came, I saw, I conquered is only let down from being perfect isocolon by the third verb being a bit too long. Easy come, easy go would be a modern example. Anyone come up with some more?

Not to be confused with megacolon. (If you value your digestion.)
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#10 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.

Yes, after a break for Inspiration, MRIWFSORD is back, and more rhetorical than ever.


Literally, something like "cutting".

Means: inserting something into the middle of a word. Usually a compound word, although you can do it within an ordinary word too if you like, or even within a syllable.

Examples: things like abso-bloody-lutely, hi-diddly-ho, any old how. Note that whatsoever was originally a tmesis (and hyphenated accordingly) but has become accepted as a word in its own right.

OK, this one isn't very exciting, but tmesis is a good word, isn't it? (In Yorkshire of course it means something different, namely: what you set t'cats on.)
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#9 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, something like "to take with something else".

Means: representing something by referring to a part of it (or vice versa). The classsic examples are referring to soldiers as "swords", workers as "hands", etc. Also used to represent something by referring to what it's made out of, eg. "willow / leather" for cricket bat / ball, "steel" for sword and so on.

Those examples all sound a bit cheesy... what about some modern ones? How about "Number Ten" to mean the Prime Minister -- that's the reverse usage. Similarly "Washington" to mean the US government, etc. Or eg. talking about "the feeling on the street" to mean "the feeling among the sort of people whom one might find in the street".

Synecdoche is a special type of metonymy, in which you refer to something by an associated term, eg. "the crown" to mean the institution of the monarchy. The distinction is that in synecdoche the term used must be a part of (or must include) the thing you're actually talking about, whereas in metonymy in general it just has to be assoeicated with it somehow.
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#8 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, to do with a cross.

Chiasmus is not only an excellent word in its own right, but also an excellent rhetorical device, ideally suited to pithy memorable sayings. Not only that, but in the current usage it incorporates another device called antimetabole, so we're saved having to remember that name. In general, chiasmus is when a phrase is in some sense a reversal of the previous phrase, and this has rhetorical effect.

The defining feature of classical chiasmus is that words aren't repeated between the two phrases, whereas now they almost always are, so we can dismiss that quite quickly. An example is from Psalm 121: "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night." So here there's no reversal of meaning -- in fact the meanings of the two phrases support each other -- it's just that the reverse terms are used to imply that the protection will be all-embracing.  Really I think this kind of structure is bound to have a bit of an old-fashioned feel about it.

Much more common now is a chiasmus where the words are repeated but the meaning thus reversed or transformed, which is what should really be called antimetabole. An example is President Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country." The idea is that the reversal of the exact same words adds weight to the reversal of the meaning, making it sit on the ear more effectively. Another good one is Cicero's "One should eat to live, not live to eat."
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#7 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, something like "meagreness".

Litotes originally had quite a restricted meaning, that of affirming something by denying ts opposite. So in common speech that might be as simple as saying "not bad" to mean "good". In rhetoric it gains from appropriate tone of voice, eg. the Friends catchphrase "... and not in a good way".

Its main use these days is as a kind of ironic understatement, and really litotes is now used to describe any kind of understatement for effect, even if it doesn't involve a negation. So, for example, saying "Little did he know that..." meaning "He had no idea that...". Or if you come in from the rain and someone insensitively asks you "Did you get wet?": you reply, soggily, "Slightly damp, yes." Not strictly litotes by the old definition, but good enough.
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#6 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.

Alliteration and Assonance

Literally, something like "together-letteredness" / "sounding together".

Alliteration is the use of the same sound (usually a consonant) at the beginning of successive words, eg. "cool, calm and collected". The related Assonance is the use of sounds resembling each other (usually vowels) within successive words, eg. "how now, brown cow". To confuse things slightly, if you use repeated consonant sounds but not at the beginning of the words, this is assonance rather than alliteration, eg. "he was killed, chilled, cold" repeats the "-ld" sound assonantly.

The idea is to get a compelling rhetorical power from the audile effect of the repetition. [Is 'audile' a real word? -- doesn't look quite right...] It has the advantage of also working in print to some extent -- those repeated "c"s in the first example definitely catch the eye. Unlike most of these devices, you can even use it subtly in conversation without sounding too pretentious!

You will have noticed that these two devices take their names frm Latin rather than from Greek, as all the others hitherto. Why this should be, I don't know -- maybe this technique doesn't work as well in Greek for some reason, so they never bothered naming it.
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#5 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.

Anacoluthon / Anacoloutha

Literally, "lacking sequence" / "not following".

These are actually two quite different figures of speech, although confusingly similar in name. (Especially as the plural of 'anacoluthon' is 'anacolutha'.) Avoid embarrassment at parties with this handy guide to telling them apart!

Anacoluthon roughly means starting a sentence one way and finishing it another, abandoning your grammatical structure partway through. For example, rather than saying "The England cricket team just won the Ashes", you start off like that but end up like "The England cricket team, aren't they wonderful?"

It's pretty common in speech (even the norm, for some people), but in writing you'd use it either to convey a conversational tone or else for emphasis.

Anacoloutha is a bit more obscure. It means the substitution of one word for another, where the reverse substitution would not be possible, ie. a one-way metaphor. (The converse, ie. if the reverse substitution were also possible, is acoloutha.) So if I were to say "I'm reading the latest garbage by Dan Brown", that's anacoloutha, because I couldn't conversely say "Put those potato peelings in the [hack novel]".

This is such a natural use of metaphor that I couldn't even think of a good example of the converse -- can anyone else? To be honest I'm not sure if it really merits its own term, particularly not one that's very similar to another!
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#4 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, "depth".

Not a term from classical rhetoric, but coined by Alexander Pope for his mock-epics, in contrast to pathos. His idea was that while pathos egages our emotions with the hero, bathos can be used to distance us from him and make him absurd, by using a heroic, epic style to discuss trivial activities, to the implied ridicule of those involved.

Pope observed that many authors do this unintentionally, and this is the more common meaning now --  anticlimax -- undercutting a serious point by means of triteness, risibility, spurious pathos or anything else really. An example of a modern-style satirical use from the current Onion: "Bush: 'It Has Been Brought To My Attention That There Was Recently A Bad Storm'". An example of the older Pope-style satirical use might be this one, in which the serious conventions of a movie review are used to ridicule the shallowness of this genre.

Nowadays I guess it's probably used as much for comic plonking effect as for satire. Like Jimmy Carr's joke: "My dad's dying wish was to have his family around him. I can't help thinking he would have been better off
with more oxygen."

(In case you missed it, here's a link to the last MRIWFSORD, on syllepsis, which I foolishly posted at the weekend when no-one was looking.)
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#3 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, "taking together".

Means: using a word to govern others twice, with different meanings each time (or once literally, once figuratively). An example from the works of that great bard Alanis Morrisette: "You held your breath and the door for me". Cleverer might be if you could use two different literal meanings (ie. homonyms), eg (erm...) "Their fish was battered, but their baby wasn't."

I guess in speech (as opposed to in writing) you can also use homophones (different words that sound the same) so that makes it a lot easier: "Would you rather he[e|a]l your shoes, or your heart?"

(Note: syllepsis is a special case of zeugma. Which, although a very good word, is a rather boring figure of speech, so I won't be treating it separately. It just means one word governing two separate parts of a sentence.)
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#2 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.


Literally, something like "joining together".

Means: repetition for the purpose of emphasis. Actually there are heaps of terms for various kinds of repetition, but this is the simplest kind: repetition of the same word or words with nothing inbetween. An example might be the plaintive cry of people who write in to Points of View, wondering "Why oh why oh why does the BBC..."

This is a pretty good device -- although maybe not as rhetorically impressive as some of the other kinds of repetition, it certainly drives its point home.
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#1 in an occasional series -- your challenge is to use it at least once today.

Hysteron proteron

Literally, something like "latter first".

Means: transposing the natural order of concepts in a sentence, ie. putting the cart before the horse. An example from Shakespeare: "Th' Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral,/ With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder" -- actually they turn the rudder and then fly, but this way round it supposedly has more rhetorical force (and better fits the scansion).

I don't think people really use this device these days, it feels rather forced. I guess a related modern practice though is for the second concept to be a modifying clause, eg "I'm going home, after I send this email" rather than the natural sequence "I'll send this email, then I'm going home" -- the effect is to emphasize the going home, and to suggest that the email is less important.


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March 2012

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