List of Rhetorical Terms

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:

(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.’

93.Note that Shakespeare’s character here, hilariously, ‘translates’ the Latin benevolentia of the rhetorical figure, but, perversely, refers to the ‘good will’ of himself, the speaker, rather than that of the audience.
94.Filling in the items elided would results in something like ‘I neither know it nor can I learn anything about it from him’.
95.Note that the last item in the list (wring-ing) contains the -ing sound twice, a stylistic *climax that reinforces the *climax in content achieved through the anthropomorphism of the cat and the unexpected switch from sound (weeping etc.) to silence (wringing).
96.Natural word order would require ‘some fall by virtue’. Note that the *hyperbaton also produces a *chiasmus – Some (a) rise (b) by sin, and some (b) by virtue (a) fall –, which is ideally suited to reinforce the elegant *antitheses of sin and virtue, rising and falling. One could further argue that the hyperbaton, which produces disorder on the level of grammar and syntax, is the perfect figure of speech for the basic idea of the utterance: moral disorder, which manifests itself in the reward of sin and the punishment of virtue and implies that our universe is devoid of justice, i.e. as chaotic as the hyperbatic word order.
97.‘To incarnadine’ means ‘to turn into the colour of flesh (Latin caro/carnis, carnis), dye red, redden’. A more familiar term with a similar etymology is ‘incarnation’.
98.The logical sequence would require ‘they turn the rudder and fly’. The example is a beautiful instance of enactment since the husteron proteron conveys a sense of how hastily (‘head over heel’) everyone is trying to get away.
99.Note that in modern literary criticism litotes is often used loosely to refer to simple negation (e.g. Shakespeare, Sonnet 130: ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…’).
100.Shakespeare expresses the degree to which Brutus’ unkindness outdid that of all the others pleonastically by using both the adverb ‘most’ and the superlative ending -est.