The art of persuasion. It has to do with the presentation of ideas in clear, persuasive language. Rhetoric has had a long career in ancient and modern schools. The founder of rhetoric is believed to have been Corax of Syracuse, who in the fifth century B.C. stipulated fundamental principles for public argument and laid down five divisions for a speech: proem, narrative, argument, remarks and peroration. (Handbook to Literature)
alliteration: Repetition of the same letter or sound within nearby words. Most often, repeated initial consonants.
anadiplosis: The repetition of the last word (or phrase) from the previous line, clause, or sentence at the beginning of the next. Often combined with climax. Example: The love of wicked men converts to fear. That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both
anaphora: Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines. Example: This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,…
anastrophe: Departure from normal word order for the sake of emphasis. Example: Anastrophe occurs whenever normal syntactical arrangement is violated for emphasis. (Consider that this use of passive voice is not necessarily what we would consider solid linguistic construction, and yet, in creative writing, passive voice, when used sparingly and in excellent execution, can sometimes create an effective emphasis–i.e. we sometimes speak in passive voice and so our characters can effectively use passive voice in their dialogue. First person narration can also effectively utilize passive voice.)
anthimeria: Substitution of one part of speech for another (such as a noun used as a verb). Example I’ve been Republicaned all I care to be this election year. (Another fantastic and smart way to add humor to your voice.)
antimetabole: Repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order. This figure is sometimes known as chiasmus. Example: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
antithesis: Juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas (often, although not always, in parallel structure). Example: “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” —Abraham Lincoln
antonomasia (periphrasis): Substituting a descriptive phrase for a proper name, or substituting a proper name for a quality associated with it. (=periphrasis) Examples: You must pray to heaven’s guardian for relief. He proved a Judas to the cause.
asyndeton: The omission of conjunctions between clauses, often resulting in a hurried rhythm or vehement effect. Examples On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame. (This is a favorite modernist and postmodernist linguistic construction.)
chiasmus: Repetition of ideas in inverted order; Repetition of grammatical structures in inverted order (not to be mistaken with antimetabole, in which identical words are repeated and inverted). Example: It is boring to eat; to sleep is fulfilling.
ellipsis: Omission of a word or short phrase easily understood in context. Example “The average person thinks he isn’t.” -Father Larry Lorenzoni The term “average” is omitted but understood after “isn’t.”
epiplexis: Asking questions in order to chide, to express grief, or to inveigh. A kind of rhetorical question. Example: Just why are you so stupid?
epistrophe: Ending a series of lines, phrases, clauses, or sentences with the same word or words. Example: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.” —Emerson
erotema: The rhetorical question. To affirm or deny a point strongly by asking it as a question. Generally, as Melanchthon has noted, the rhetorical question includes an emotional dimension, expressing wonder, indignation, sarcasm, etc. Example: Just why are you so stupid?
hypophora: Consists of raising one or more questions and then proceeding to answer them, usually at some length. A common usage is to ask the question at the beginning of a paragraph and then use that paragraph to answer it. (The Socratic Method would not answer the question directly, but rather, use a parable or scene so to give the reader space in which to answer the question for him or herself.)
irony: Speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest. (This, of course, is a cornerstone of excellent literature. Minimalists will often allow the ironies to unveil themselves the same we let metaphor unveil itself through the process of writing. Satirists will sometimes approach a writing project with the intention of a particular irony in mind, but this can truncate the work, rush it and miss a number of opportunities. It could be argued that the “great” works are those that employ irony and satire that the writer allowed to unveil through the process with patience and multiple revisions. “Impressing” writer-intended irony, satire, theme upon a work is often the quickest way to truncate it. Usually best to allow the ironies, satires and themes to unveil themselves gradually through the process of writing, revising, rest time and so on.)
isocolon: A series of similarly structured elements having the same length. A kind of parallelism. Examples Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
synecdoche: A whole is represented by naming one of its parts (genus named for species), or vice versa (species named for genus). Example: Listen, you’ve got to come take a look at my new set of wheels. One refers to a vehicle in terms of some of its parts, “wheels.” In literature that employs pro or anti gender focuses, body parts are often used in order to represent the whole person. This can be used for critical dramatic effect and/or humor.
litotes: Deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying its opposite. Example It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. —J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
metonymy: Reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes. Example: The pen is mightier than the sword. The pen is an attribute of thoughts that are written with a pen; the sword is an attribute of military action. (Synecdoche is similar to metonymy; however, metonymy is a broader or looser representation of the whole or the particular attribute.)
oxymoron: Placing two ordinarily opposing terms adjacent to one another. A compressed paradox.
paradox: A statement that is self-contradictory on the surface, yet seems to evoke a truth nonetheless. Example: Whosoever loses his life, shall find it.
parallelism: Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses.
parenthesis: Insertion of a verbal unit that interrupts normal syntactical flow. Example: But the new calculations–and here we see the value of relying upon up-to-date information–showed that man-powered flight was possible with this design. (Notice that an em dash is used instead of the parentheses, which is often a modernized linguistic preference for literary prose and hybrid writers.)
personification: Reference to abstractions or inanimate objects as though they had human qualities or abilities.
polysyndeton: Employing many conjunctions between clauses, often slowing the tempo or rhythm. Examples They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked. (Another favorite device used by modernists and postmodernists.)
schemes: A change in standard word order or pattern.
simile: An explicit comparison, often (but not necessarily) employing “like” or “as.” (Metaphor is more often the preferred comparison, but well-placed and rare similes can be effectively used. Some authors break this simile convention for effect.)
tropes: The use of a word, phrase, or image in a way not intended by its normal signification.
zeugma: Includes several similar rhetorical devices, all involving a grammatically correct linkage (or yoking together) of two or more parts of speech by another part of speech. Example: Fred excelled at sports; Harvey at eating; Tom with girls.
*If you like this list and would like to practice your memory regarding these terms, go to Quizlet. (Any secondary and post-secondary teachers working with beginning writers might find this Quizlet site link fun for your students, too!)
A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Literary Terms. Martin Puchner, et al.
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.« Back to Reference Index