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A Bestiary of Figures of Speech

by J. M. Haile

Most things have names, so we should not be too surprised that things as mundane as figures of speech have been named. Most of those names belong to an earlier age, an age when rhetoric occupied a central position in education. Today, the names are rarely encountered. But for those of us whose lives are intertwined with the written word, the names may, perhaps, draw our attention to our craft; they may offer a measure of continuity with earlier writers and, at least, they can be a source of innocent amusement.

The following table is extracted from Technical Style [1]. The example for the scesis onomaton is taken from Douglas Hofstadter [2]. For more about such figures of speech, see the little book by Arthur Quinn [3].


[ 1 ] J.M. Haile, Technical Style, Macatea Productions, Central, SC, 2001.

[ 2 ] D.R. Hofstadter, Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Vintage Books, New York, 1980.

[ 3 ] Arthur Quinn, Figures of Speech, Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., Salt Lake City, 1982.

Name Definition Example
Anadiplosisusing a previous ending as a beginning Strive for clarity, for clarity resolves many issues of style.
Anaphorarepeated beginningsPerhaps you have heard this before. Perhaps you remember.
Antithesis repeated in the negativeThis proof is wrong. It is certainly not valid.
Asterismosusing unneeded words to draw attention to what followsConfusion often arises from this, an inability to resolve contradictions.
Asyndeton omitting a conjunctionThe presentation was brief, spirited, superficial.
Epistropherepeated endings To write well, read well.
Pleonasmusing superfluous wordsTry, try again.
Polyptoton repeating a word or root, but in a different grammatical formCommon sense is uncommon. (Voltaire)
Polysyndetonusing unneeded conjunctionsThe text was long and hard and dull.
Scesis onomatonomitting all verbsThis sentence no verb.
Zeugma omitting one or more verbs so that a remaining verb applies to more than one clauseHe skips rope daily and lunch occasionally.