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RHETORICAL DEVICES & FIGURES OF SPEECH

(Bringing Brightness and Buoyancy to Language: Prose & Poetry)

1. allegory: (Greek, ‘speaking otherwise’) It is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to
reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. It has a double meaning: a
primary or surface meaning; and a secondary or under-the-surface meaning. It is a story,
therefore, that can be read, understood and interpreted at two or more levels.

1. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of Christian Salvation—the best known


allegory in the English language. The whole work is a simplified representation of the
average man’s journey through the trials and tribulations of life on his way to Heaven.

2. An early example of the use of allegory in literature is the myth of the Cave in Plato’s
Republic. Other notable instances of allegory include Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and
George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

2. alliteration: (Latin, ‘repeating and playing upon the same letter’) The use of words starting with or
containing the same letter or sound. It is a very old devise indeed in English verse and
is used occasionally in prose.

1. Coleridge’s famous description of the sacred river Alph in Kubla Khan:


‘Five miles meandering with a mazy motion.’

2. Alliteration is common in tongue-twisters: Betty Botter bought some butter,

But, she said, the butter’s bitter;

If I put it in the batter

It will make my batter bitter,

But a bit of better butter,

That would make my batter better.

3. anacoluthon: (Greek, ‘back bending’) A sentence or construction in which the expected


grammatical sequence is absent, considered an error in Grammar. Beginning a sentence
in one way and continuing or ending it in another—used as a rhetorical device to
achieve a particular effect.

1. While in the garden, the door banged shut. (Error in Grammar)

2. You know what I—but let’s forget it! (Rhetorical Device)

4. anadiplosis: (Greek, ‘doubling’) The repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the
following clause to gain a special effect.
1. Dr Johnson’s Rambler No. 21: ‘Labour and care are rewarded with success,

success produces confidence,

confidence relaxes industry,

and negligence ruins the reputation which diligence


had raised.’

5. anaphora: (Greek, ‘carrying up or back’)

1. (Grammar) The use of a word referring back to a word used earlier in a text or
conversation, to avoid repetition. For example: ‘I like it so do they.’

2. (Rhetoric) The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.

For example: the lament for Lancelot in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur:

…. you were never matched of earthly knight’s hand;

and you were the most courteous knight that ever bore shield;

and you were the truest friend to your lover that ever bestrode horse;

and you were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved women;

and you were the kindest man that ever struck with sword;

and you were the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights;

and you were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies;

and you were the sternest knight to your mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.

6. anastrophe: (Greek, ‘turning back’: used in Rhetoric) The inversion of the usual order of words or
clauses for a particular effect.

1. ‘The question between preaching extempore and from a written discourse, it does not
properly fall within the province of this discourse to discuss on any but what may be
called rhetorical principles.’ —Richard Whateley’s Elements of Rhetoric.

7. antithesis: (Greek, ‘opposition’) Fundamentally, contrasting ideas sharpened by the use of opposite
or noticeably different meanings. An expression in which contrasting ideas are carefully
balanced.

1. ‘Crafty men contemn studies; simple men admire them; and wise men use them.’—
Bacon’s apophthegm
2. ‘Though studious, he was popular; though argumentative, he was modest; though
inflexible, he was candid; and though metaphysical, yet orthodox.’—Dr Johnson

3. More haste, less speed.

8. antonomasia: (Greek, ‘naming instead’) 1. The substitution of an epithet or title for a proper name.
and 2. The use of a proper name to express a general idea.

1. ‘the Maid of Orleans’ for Joan of Arc; 2. ‘the Bard’ for Shakespeare; 3. ‘a
Gamaliel’ or ‘a Solomon’ for a wise man; 4. ‘a Daniel’ for a just man; 5. ‘a
Casanova’ for a womanizer; 6. ‘a Hitler’ for a tyrant; and 7. ‘a Scrooge’ for a miser.

9. apostrophe: (Greek, ‘turning away’: used in Rhetoric) A figure of speech in which a thing, a place,
an abstract quality, an idea, a dead or absent person is addressed as if present and
capable of understanding.

1. ‘Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain…”—Goldsmith’s opening of The


Deserted Village

2. ‘O Judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts…’—Mark Anthony’s cry in Julius


Caesar

3. ‘O Freedom! Hear our cry!

10. assonance: (Latin, ‘respond to sound’) The repetition of vowel sounds or use of identical consonants
with different vowels, to achieve a particular effect of euphony.

1. slow progress over the cold plateau.

2. killed, cold, culled.

11. asyndeton: (Greek, ‘unconnected’) A rhetorical device where conjunctions, articles and even
pronouns are omitted for the sake of speed and economy; and a particular rhetorical
effect.

1. ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’—Julius Caesar

2. ‘The first sort by their own suggestion fell

Self-tempted, self-depraved; man falls, deceived

By the other first; man therefore shall find grace,

The other none…’ —Milton’s Paradise Lost


12. bathos: (Greek, ‘depth’) An effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the
sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.

1. ‘Ye Gods! Annihilate but Space and Time

And make two lovers happy.’ —Alexander Pope

13. chiasmus: (Greek, ‘a placing crosswise’) The repetition of words, grammatical constructions, or
concepts in reverse order.

1. ‘By the day the frolic, and the dance by night.’—Dr Johnson’s The Vanity of Human
Wishes

2. ‘His time a moment, and a point his space.’—Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man

14. dysphemism: (Greek, ‘not fair speech’) The use of derogatory or unpleasant terms instead of
pleasant or neutral ones. It is the opposite of euphemism.

1. ‘a filthy dirty face’

15. ellipsis: (Greek, ‘leaving out’) The omission of words, or sudden breaking off in mid-sentence, for
rhetorical effect.

1. The door opened, and . . .[the ellipsis here creates a dramatic effect.]

2. The editor, showing a commendable sense of humour, collapsed in fits of giggles when I
pointed out the error. At least, I trust it is an error…

[The ellipsis here is the equivalent of a pointed silence in speech full of mischievous
meaning.]

16. epanalepsis: (Greek, ‘a taking up again’) A figure of speech which contains a repetition of a word or
words after other words have come between them.

1. ‘Say first, for Heaven hides nothing from thy view,

Nor the deep tract of Hell, say first what cause

Moved our grand Parents, in that happy state…—Milton’s Paradise Lost

2. ‘And Brutus is an honourable man.’ —Repetition in Mark Anthony’s speech in


Julius Caesar
17. euphemism: (Greek’ ‘fair speech’) An inoffensive expression used in place of a sharper or more
explicit one.

1. to pass away (to die) 2. downsizing (retrenching employees) 3. mentally challenged


(mentally retarded 4. collateral damage (killing of innocent civilians in war)

18. euphuism: (Greek, ‘well endowed by nature’) An ornately florid, precious and mazy style of
writing. It is also referred to as ‘a purple patch’.
1. ‘The fiery stars twinkled brightly in the pitch-black sky as the utterly exhausted
ploughman walked painfully back from the parched field to his modest cottage.’—from
a School Composition
19. hendiadys: (Greek, ‘one through two’) A figure of speech in which one idea is expressed by two
substantives.

1. ‘gloom and despondency’ 2. ‘darkness and the shadow of death’

20. hypallage: (Greek, ‘exchange’) The deliberate misapplication of an adjective to a noun. Also known
as ‘a transferred epithet’.
1. ‘his sleepless pillow’ 2. ‘the condemned cell’ 3. ‘a happy day’

2. ‘Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.’— TS Eliot’s The Waste Land

[Explanation: Clearly the snow is not ‘forgetful’, but rather conceals, muffles, ‘shrouds’
the earth, so that for a time we forget what the earth looks like.]

21. hyperbaton: (Greek, ‘overstepping’) A figure of speech in which words are transposed from their
usual order. A very common poetic device.

1. ‘High on the throne of royal state, which far

Outshone the wealth of Ormuz or of Ind,

Or where the gorgeous East, with richest hand

Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,

Satan exalted sat.’ —Milton’s Paradise Lost

22. hyperbole: (Greek, ‘overcasting’) An exaggeration or overstatement for emphasis.

1. I was so famished I could have eaten a horse. 2. She was so embarrassed that she died a
thousand deaths.
3. I haven’t seen you for aeons. 4. This story is as old as the hills.

5. He was in the sort of overwrought state when a fly treading a little too heavily on the
carpet is enough to make a man think he’s one of the extras in All Quiet On The
Western Front.—PG Wodehouse

23. innuendo: (Latin, ‘by nodding at, by pointing to’) An indirect or subtle suggestion, often intended as
a veiled accusation. An allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or
disparaging one.

1. Not everyone would be able to believe that. 2. We all know who the snitch is.

24. irony: (Greek, ‘dissimulation’) The use of a word or words to convey something markedly different
from the literal meaning; a common component of sarcasm, though not necessarily so cutting.

1. It’s a secret, so only half of Delhi knows about it.

25. litotes: (Greek, ‘single, simple, meagre’) An understatement in which an idea is tellingly conveyed,
typically by contradicting its opposite. Often used in everyday speech, frequently with a
negative assertion, and usually with laconic or ironic intentions.

1. ‘He’s not exactly sober.’ (He is totally drunk.) 2. ‘Not bad!’ (Very good.)

26. metaphor: (Greek, ‘carrying from one place to another’) The description of one thing in terms of
another that is related to it by analogy.

1. She sailed across the room.

2. A carpet of snow covered the pathway, and that was being rolled up by a man driving a
small tractor with a scoop on the front.

27. metonymy: (Greek, ‘change of name’) A figure of speech in which a concrete term or the name of
an attribute is used to refer to some wider idea that it characterizes.

1. ‘the Crown’ for the monarchy 2. ‘the turf” for horse racing 3. ‘the stage’ for the
theatrical profession

4. ‘the bench’ for the judiciary 5. the name of an author for his works: ‘This appears in
Shakespeare often.’

28. onomatopoeia: (Greek, ‘name-making’) The use of words whose sound suggests their meaning.

1. sizzle, splash, crack, buzz, zap, dong, crackle, clang, zoom, whoosh, etc.
29. oxymoron: (Greek, ‘pointedly foolish’) A figure of speech which combines incongruous or
contradictory terms for a special effect. It is a common device and is closely related to
antithesis and paradox.

1. a wise fool 2. deafening silence 3. an honest thief 4. the poor little rich boy

30. paradox: (Greek, ‘beside/beyond opinion) An apparently absurd or self-contradictory statement


which, on closer examination, is found to contain a truth reconciling the conflicting
opposites.

1. Her gentleness was too harsh to bear. 2. I must be cruel only to be kind.

3. Careless she is with artful care,

Affecting to seem unaffected. —Congreve’s neat turn of phrase in Amoret.

31. pathetic fallacy (personification): The assigning of human feelings or characteristics to natural or
inanimate objects.

1. The trees groaned. 2. The jovial Moon smiled benignly down at us.

32. periphrasis (circumlocution): (Greek, ‘roundabout speech’) The use of many words where fewer
would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive or pompously
humorous..

1. ‘Her olfactory system was suffering from a temporary inconvenience.’ [ = Her nose
was blocked.]

2. ‘I am not so inebriated as to be incapable of unassisted perambulation.’


[ = I am not so drunk that I can’t walk without your
help.]

3. ‘a tonsorial artist in full sartorial splendour’ [ = a well-dressed barber]


33. pleonasm (Greek, ‘superfluity’) (tautology) (Greek, ‘the same saying’): This is one common form
of long-windedness—in effect, saying the same thing twice.

1. Pair off in twos. 2. Return my book back. 3. Please repeat that again. 4. Let me present
the actual facts.

34. polysyndeton: (Greek, ‘much compounded’) It is the opposite of asyndeton and thus is the
repetition of conjunctions for rhetorical effect.

1. I went to Florence and Venice and Rome and Naples.


2. He got up, and he showered and washed, and he dressed up with meticulous care. It
was his big day.

35. prolepsis: (Greek, ‘a taking beforehand, anticipation’) A figurative device by which a future event is
presumed to have happened.
1. So the killer and the murdered man rode past the police station on their way to the
forest cottage. [The murdered man has not yet been murdered but he is being
taken into a forest where he will be murdered later in the story.]
36. pun: is a device of deliberate wordplay which stimulates the reader or provides him some comic
relief, which emerges from the possible different meanings of a word or from words which
sound alike but have different meanings.

1. Mrs. Forbes is a secretary who won’t be dictated to.

2. The neighbours were arguing from different premises.

3. For a man with a moustache, drinking soup can be quite a strain.

4. It’s all mind over matter—never mind, it doesn’t matter.

5. The cat ate some cheese, then waited for the mouse with baited breath.

6. Is life worth living? It depends on the liver.


37. rhetorical question: a question asked for effect or to convey information rather than to elicit an
answer. It is used primarily for stylistic effect, and is a very common device in public speaking—
especially when the speaker is trying to work up the emotional temperature.

1.(a politician at the hustings): Are we going to tolerate this intrusion upon our freedom?
Are we going to accept these restrictions? Are we to be intimidated by self-serving
bureaucrats? Are we to be suppressed by sycophantic and supine jackals waiting for
dead men’s shoes?

2.(Friends meeting in the street) Isn’t it a lovely day? [ = It is a lovely day.]

3.(Teacher angrily to students who have failed in his exam) Do you know who an idiot
is? [ = Look at yourselves and you will know.]

38. simile: (Latin, ‘like’) A comparison of two unlike ideas or objects, typically using the word like or
as.

1. lips like rosebuds, and kisses like wine.

2. Then, as the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like shreds of a burning
curtain.

3. The children crowded the doorway, watching me expectantly as though I was a firework
just about to go off.

4. He was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had
forgotten to say ‘Stop!’—PG Wodehouse
39. syllepsis: (Greek, ‘a taking together, comprehension’) The use of single word to apply to two others,
in different ways.

1. He held his tongue and my hand. (see zeugma)

40. synecdoche: (Greek, ‘taking up together’) The use of the name of a part to refer to the whole, or vice
versa.

1. forty sail to refer to forty ships. 2. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ [bread for
meals]

3. India have won the match. [India for Indian cricket team (used in the plural)]

41. zeugma: (Greek, ‘yoking, bonding’)use of a single word to apply to two others, especially when it is
appropriate to only one.

1. He held his tongue and his promise. (see syllepsis)