List of Rhetorical Terms
(i) The list contains only those terms actually used in the commentary. More complete lists are available in standard textbooks (e.g. Morwood (1999)150–54: ‘Some literary terms’)or on the web (e.g. Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/).
(ii) Most of the terms derive from, or indeed are, either Greek or Latin; I have therefore provided an etymological explanation for each, not least to show that the terminological abracadabra makes perfectly good sense – even though it takes a smattering of ancient Greek and Latin to see this.
(iii) The English examples are from Shakespeare; unless otherwise indicated they come from the Pyramus-and-Thisbe episode in Act 5 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The main reason for drawing on the oeuvre of an (early)modern author for illustration is to convey a sense of the continuity of classical and classicizing rhetoric in the western cultural tradition.
alliteration: the repeated use of the same sound, especially a consonant, at the beginning of words in close proximity.
Etymology:from (un-classical) Latin alliterare, ‘to begin with the same letter’.
Examples:‘O dainty duck! O dear!’ ‘When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.’ ‘Whereat, with blade, with bloody, blameful blade/ He bravely broach’d his boiling bloody breast.’
anacoluthon: a sudden break in a sentence, resulting in an incomplete grammatical or syntactical unit; a change in construction in mid-sentence.
Etymology:from Greek anakolouthos, ‘inconsistent, anomalous, inconsequent’.s
Example:‘No, you unnatural hags,/ I will have such revenges on you both,/ That all the world shall – I will do such things…’ (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 4).
anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of several successive syntactic units.
Etymology:from Greek anapherein, ‘to carry back, to repeat’
Example :‘O grim-look’d night! O night with hue so black! O night, which ever art when day is not! O night, O night, alack, alack, alack!’
antithesis: literally ‘a placing against’; the (balanced) juxtaposition of contrasting ideas.
Etymology:from Greek antitithenai, ‘to place (tithenai) against (anti-)’.
Example :‘‘Tide life, ‘tide death, I come without delay.’
apo koinou: two constructions that have a word or phrase in common; or, put the other way around, a word or phrase shared by two different constructions.
Etymology:from the Greek phrase apo koinou lambanein, used by ancient grammarians of two clauses taking (apo … lambanein) a word in common (koinou, the genitive of koinon after the preposition apo).
Example :‘There was a man … dwelt by a churchyard’ (The Winter’s Tale, Act 2, Scene 1).
assonance: a type of alliteration (see above) in which the leading letter is a vowel.
Etymology:from Latin adsonare, ‘to sound (sonare) to (ad)’, via French assonance.
asyndeton: the absence or omission of conjunctions (see also below polysyndeton).
Etymology:from Greek asyndetos, ‘not (a-privativum) bound (detos, from dein, to bind) together (sun)’.
Example :‘O Fates, come, come, cut thread and thrum; quail, crush, conclude, and quell!’
captatio benevolentiae: a Latin phrase that literally means ‘the capture of goodwill’, i.e. a rhetorical technique designed to render the audience kindly disposed towards the speaker.
(Botched) example: ‘If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think, we come not to offend. But with good will.’93
chiasmus: the repetition of a grammatical pattern in inverse order: a b – b a.
Etymology:from Greek chiasmos, ‘a placing crosswise’, from the letter X (pronounced chi) of the Greek alphabet. (Imagine the two a at either end of the first diagonal line of X, and at either end of the second diagonal line the two b; then read the top half first and afterwards the bottom half and you get a b – b a.)
Example :‘(a) Sweet Moon, (b) I thank thee …, (b) I thank thee, (a) Moon…’
climax: a series or sequence of units that gradually increase in import or force.
Etymology:from Greek klimax, ‘ladder’.
Example: ‘Ton gu e, lose thy light;/ Moon take thy flight: No w die, die, die, die, die’ (Pyramus before stabb ing himself).
ellipsis: the omission of one or more words in a sentence necessary for a complete grammatical construction.
Etymology:from Greek elleipein, ‘to fall short, leave out’.
Example: ‘I neither know it nor can learn of him’ (Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 1).94
figura etymologica: a Latin phrase referring to words of the same etymological derivation used in close proximity to one another.
Example: ‘So long lives this, and this gives life to thee’ (Sonnet 18).
hendiadys: one idea expressed by two words joined by ‘and’, such as two nouns used in place of a noun and an adjective.
Etymology:from Greek hen-dia-duoin, ‘one thing (hen) by means of (dia) two (duoin)’.
Example: ‘The service and the loyalty I owe’ (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 4), for ‘the loyal service’.
homoioteleuton: similarity of ending in words in close proximity to one another.
Etymology:from Greek homoios, ‘like’, and teleute, ‘ending’.
Example: ‘My mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands’ (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene 3).95
hyperbaton: dislocation of the customary or logical word order, with the result that items that normally go together are separated.
Etymology:from Greek huperbaino, ‘to step (bainein) over (huper-)’. (Imagine, for instance, that if an adjective is placed apart from the noun it modifies you have to ‘step over’ the intervening words to get from one to the other.)
Example: ‘Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall’ (Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 1).96
hyperbole: the use of exaggeration.
Etymology:from Greek huperballein, ‘to throw (ballein, from which derives bole, “a throwing”) over or beyond (huper)’.
Example: ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/ Making the green one red’ (Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2).97
husteron proteron: A Greek phrase, meaning ‘the latter (husteron) first (proteron)’, producing chronological disorder.
Example: ‘The Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral,/ With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder’ (Antony and Cleopatra, Act 3, Scene10).98
litotes: a ‘double negation’, in which a statement, quality, or attribute is affirmed by the negation of its opposite; assertion by means of understatement, frequently for the purpose of intensification.
Etymology:from Greek litos, ‘simple, plain, petty, small’.
Example: ‘That I was not ignoble of descent’ (Henry VI, Part 3, Act 4, Scene 1).99
onomatopoesis/ onomatopoeia: expressions where the sound suggests the sense.
Etymology:from Greek onoma (genitive onomatos), ‘word, name’, and poiein (noun: poesis), ‘to make’.
Example: ‘Sea -nymphs hourly ring his knell/ Hark! now I hear them, – Ding-dong, bell’ (The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2).
oxymoron: a ‘pointedly foolish’ expression, resulting from the juxtaposition or combination of two words of contradictory meaning.
Etymology:from Greek oxus, ‘sharp’, and môros, ‘stupid’.
Examples: ‘”A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus/ And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.” Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!/ That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow./ How shall we find the concord of this discord?’
paronomasia: a play upon words that sound alike; a pun.
Etymology:from Greek paronomazo, ‘to call with a slight change of name (onoma)’. Cicero discusses the figure (with examples) at de Oratore 2.256.
Examples:‘Our sport shall be to take what they mistake’; ‘You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear/ the smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor…’
pleonasm: a ‘fullness of expression’, that is, the use of more words than is strictly speaking necessary to convey the desired meaning.
Etymology:from Greek pleonazein, ‘to be more than enough or superfluous’.
Example: ‘the most unkindest cut of all’ (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, about Brutus’ stabbing of Caesar). 100
polyptoton: the repetition of the same word, variously inflected.
Etymology:from Greek poluptoton, ‘many (polu) cases (from ptôsis, i.e. fall, grammatical case)’.
Example: ‘Then know that I, one Snug the joiner, am/ A lion-fell, nor else no lion’s dam.’
polysyndeton: the frequent use of conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘or’ even when they are not required.
Etymology:from Greek polusyndetos, ‘many times (polu) bound (detos, from dein, to bind) together (sun)’.
Example: ‘Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads’ (The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1).
praeteritio: a Latin term that means ‘passing over’; as a rhetorical figure it refers to the practice of mentioning something by not meaning to mention it.
Example: ‘Soft you; a word or two before you go./ I have done the state some service, and they know’t. / No more of that’ (Othello, Act 5, Scene 2).
tautology: the repetition of the same idea in different ways.
Etymology:from Greek tauto, ‘the same’, and logos, ‘word, idea’. Example: ‘The … mouse … may now perchance both quake and tremble here.’
tmesis: the ‘cutting apart’ of a compound word by the interposition of others.
Etymology:from Greek temnein, ‘to cut’.
Example: ‘that man – how dearly ever parted’ (Troilus and Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3).
tricolon: the use of three parallel grammatical units (words, phrases, clauses).
Etymology:from Greek tri-, ‘three’, and kôlon, ‘limb, member, clause, unit’.
Example: ‘Tongue, not a word;/ Come, trusty sword;/ Come, blade, my breast imbue.’