Tag Archives: rhetorical devices

Klinkenborg Writes About Metaphor

metaphors be with you

My critique partner in Corpus Christi and I are reading Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I’m opening the book at random instead of reading it cover to cover. Today, on p. 43 the topic was metaphor. Klinkenborg states that often metaphors are like

“A stage prop, a paraphrase, a clarification, at best,

Nearly always cumbersome, bordering on cliche,

Almost always timid, rarely serious, usually self-conscious,

And too often stretched out over three or four sentences

In order to create an extended metaphor,

Which is a cruel analogical death.”

Yes, he wrote with commas and capitals after them in the visual form of a poem. And, it’s a very long sentence in a book about short sentences. But as he continues, it’s one of the best ways to think of metaphors that I’ve read.

“A true metaphor is a swift and violent twisting of language,

A renaming of the already named.

It’s meant to expire in a sudden flash of light

And to reveal–in that burst of illumination–

A correspondence that must be literally accurate.

Any give in the metaphor, any indeterminacy,

And it becomes a cloud of smoke, not a flash of light.

Like any rhetorical device, the less you use it, the more

effective it is.”

I admire one writer who uses metaphor on every page and meets the description above with mastery in her book The Mermaid’s Chair. That writer is Sue Monk Kidd.

Have you read a metaphor that didn’t quite make the “flash” that Klinkenborg calls it?


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Antanagoge Rhetorical Device

AntanagogeAntanagoge is a rhetorical device that means: putting a positive point on something negative. (2) answering the charge of an adversary, by a counter charge.

Example: She always forgets my birthday, but she gives me gifts during the year.

He lost his job, but he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.

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Rhetorical Device Epanalepsis


President John Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war — or war will put an end to mankind.”

Our ears heard it, but we could not believe our ears.

The theory sounds all wrong; but if the experiment is a success, I cant worry about theory.

Next time there won’t be a next time.”   (Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos)

To report that a raise in wages is still under discussion is to tell us that there is nothing to report.

Nothing is worse than doing nothing.


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Rhetorical Devices Anastrophe and Antanaclasis

primal forestAnastrophe is the deliberate changing of normal word order for emphasis. For example:

“Enter the forest primeval.”

“On a black cloak sparkle the stars.”

“Bright he was not.”

Antanaclasis is when the same word is repeated but with a different sense each time.  Antanaclasis creates comic effect when used in the form of irony and pun. Political leaders make use of this technique in order to persuade and draw the attention of audience.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired, with enthusiasm.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

antanaclasis by Martin Luther King Jr.

Groucho Marx in 1933 said:

Antanaclasis Groucho Marx


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Rhetorical Devices Euphony and Cacophony

Euphony with written words in backgroundThe Rhetorical devices euphony and cacophony are opposites. Euphony is the use of words having pleasant and harmonious effects by using long vowels and the consonants l, m. n, r, f, v, y,  th, and wh.

An example of euphony is from ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Mild-eyed melancholy lotos-eaters came.” John Keats in ‘To Autumn’ uses euphony with “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

Cacophony in daily life refers to sounds such as music that is too loud, people talking, babies crying, dogs barking, etc.Cacophony in literature consists of a mixture of harsh and inharmonious sounds, usually words with the use of consonants, p, b, d, g, k, ch-, sh-, etc.  Writers use those words when writing distasteful situations with disorder and confusion.

Cacophony loud“With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,

Agape they heard me call.”

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is an example of cacophony in literature.

Do you tend to use cacophony or euphony?

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Rhetorical Device Chiasmus

Chiasmus signThe Rhetorical Device, Chiasmus means repetition of ideas in inverted order.

For example: “It is boring to eat; to sleep fulfilling.”

Chiasmus frequently uses the pattern above which is present participle-infinitive; infinitive-present participle.

Other examples:

“The instinct of a man is
to pursue everything that flies from him, and
to fly from all that pursues him.”  (Voltaire)

“Bad men live that they may eat and drink,
whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.” – Socrates (5th Century B.C.)

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Macbeth, I, i)

“Judge not, lest ye be judged”

John F. Kennedy’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

Information from Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric and Literary Devices


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Antiphrasis Rhetorical Device

chihuahuaAntiphrasis is a figure of speech in which a phrase or word is opposite to its literal meaning in order to create an ironic or comic effect.  Examples:

“The Chihuahua’s name is Goliath.”

“The actress was a mere babe of forty years.”

“Get in, little man,” he told his six foot tall friend.

Antiphrasis surprises people, making them stop and think what is really meant. It can be used in sarcasm, reversing something to show the intended meaning.

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Rhetorical Devices Epitasis and Anesis

Epitasis is the addition of a concluding sentence that merely emphasizes what has already been stated. A kind of amplification.


Eat your sandwich. All of it.girls study rhetorical devices

Anesis is the opposite of epitasis. It adds a concluding sentence that diminishes the effect of what was said previously.


The little dog is cute and obedient. That said, he smells like a polluted mud flat at low tide on a hot afternoon.

The employee was smart, efficient, and generous. However, his temper was off the charts.


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Rhetorical Device Polysyndeton

Rhetorical cartoonThe rhetorical device, polysyndeton, is the opposite of asyndeton, the term I explained in my last post.

Asyndeton omits conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. Polysyndeton adds several conjunctions in close succession between each word, phrase, or clause without commas. It makes the sentence slower and the items more emphatic than in asyndeton. The repetition of the conjunctions creates a rhythm and a feeling of endless continuity.

Examples: “…here and there and everywhere”

“They asked for cake and candy and ice cream and chocolate.”

“The student read and studied and wrote notes in the hope of passing the exam.”

“When she heard the news report, Jill grabbed her keys and her purse and her umbrella and her flashlight.” The use of polysyndeton slows her action which implies she was careful to take what she needed.

“When she heard the news report, Jill grabbed her keys, her purse, her umbrella, and her flashlight.” The use of asyndeton speeds up her action implying she’s in a hurry.

Write a sentence with a series of words and try one way with asyndeton, without conjunctions, and write it again with polysyndeton, with conjunctions (but no commas).

Which way worked better?


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Asyndeton, a Rhetorical Device

Rhetorical devicesRhetorical Devices attract and hold attention with words. Asyndeton is one in which conjunctions are omitted deliberately from a series. Julius Caesar eliminated “and” when he said, “I came. I saw. I conquered.”

Asyndeton produces a hurried rhythm in a sentence. It creates a concise, dramatic effect. Abraham Lincoln used asyndeton when he said, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Perhaps a character could be described as “She had cold feet, cold hands, cold heart.”

Maybe another character could speak Italian, French, German. An athlete could claim, “I play football, baseball, soccer, hockey.” A college student lists his subjects: “I’m taking Statistics, Physics, English, Film.”

In 2007. Steve Jobs described the new smart phone, “Thinner than the Q, thinner than the BlackJack, thinner than all of them.”

Have you used asyndeton in your writing?


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