Figures of Speech

Some of Longinus’ Figures (C/O Professor Geoff Sirc, University of Minnesota)

Amplification: techniques to expand a simple sentence

  • Hyperbole: self-conscious exaggeration, not to be understood literally
  • Correctio: making straight, setting right;  e.g., correction of word or phrase used previously (epanorthosis): “That it should come [to this]!/ But two months dead, nay, not so much, not two.”, or preparing the way for saying something the speaker knows will be unpleasant to his auditors (diorthosis): “Although I realize how offensive this will sound, it is something that must be said.”
  • Accumulatio: heaping up praise or accusation to emphasize or summarize points or inferences already made: “He is the betrayer of his own self-respect, and the waylayer of the self-respect of others; covetous, intemperate, irascible, arrogant; disloyal to his parents, ungrateful to his friends . . .”
  • Interrogatio (also erotesis): a questioning; rhetorical question implying strong affirmation or denial: “Oh heavens! is’t possible a young maid’s wits/Should be as mortal as an old man’s life?”
  • Antithesis: conjoining contrasting ideas: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” or “Serenity now; insanity later.”
  • Sententia: proverb, apothegm, maxim, gnome; a short, pithy statement of general truth “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” or “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Asyndeton: ‘unconnected’; omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses: “He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.” “Why, they’ve got ten volumes on suicide alone. Suicide by race, by color, by occupation, by sex, by seasons of the year, by time of day. Suicide, how committed: by poisons, by firearms, by drowning, by leaps. Suicide by leaps, subdivided by leaps from high places, under the wheels of trains, under the wheels of trucks, under the feet of horses, from steamboats.

Hyperbaton: ‘going beyond; [of words] transposed’; a generic figure of various forms of departure from ordinary word order, such as

  • anastrophe, which is unusual arrangement of words or clauses within a sentence: “Bloody thou art; bloody will be thy end” or “The helmsman steered, the ship moved on; / Yet never a breeze up blew”
  • parenthesis, which means ‘to put in beside’ and refers to a word, phrase, or sentence inserted as an aside in a sentence complete in itself
  • epergesis, which is appositio, or placing two nouns together without a verb, the second defining the first: I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing

Polyptoton: employment of the same word in various cases, repetition of words from the same root with different endings; e.g., choosy mothers choose Jif


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