Education and Information Site VirtualSalt A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, Page 4 Robert A. Harris
January 5, 2010

To go directly to the discussion of a particular device, click on the name below. If you know these already, go directly to the Self Test. Of course, I modestly recommend my book, Writing with Clarity and Style, Second Edition, that contains all 60 of the devices discussed below, and many sidebars on style and writing effectiveness. Get a copy from here: Writing With Clarity and Style, Second Edition. The book has been newly updated, expanded, and improved for 2018. As a bonus free gift to purchasers of the book, a supplement is available for download that contains hundreds of examples of the devices as used in the Bible. Get the supplement here (requires Adobe Reader).

Alliteration Antithesis Climax Epizeuxis Metanoia Polysyndeton
Allusion Apophasis Conduplicatio Eponym Metaphor Procatalepsis
Amplification Aporia Diacope Exemplum Metonymy Rhetorical Question
Anacoluthon Aposiopesis Dirimens Copulatio Sentential Adverb Onomatopoeia Scesis Onomaton
Anadiplosis Apostrophe Distinctio Hyperbaton Oxymoron Sententia
Analogy Appositive Enthymeme Hyperbole Parallelism Simile
Anaphora Assonance Enumeratio Hypophora Parataxis Symploce
Antanagoge Asyndeton Epanalepsis Hypotaxis Parenthesis Synecdoche
Antimetabole Catachresis Epistrophe Litotes Personification Understatement
Antiphrasis Chiasmus Epithet Metabasis Pleonasm Zeugma

22. Apophasis (also called praeteritio or occupatio) asserts or emphasizes something by pointedly seeming to pass over, ignore, or deny it. This device has both legitimate and illegitimate uses. Legitimately, a writer uses it to call attention to sensitive or inflammatory facts or statements while he remains apparently detached from them:

Does the first example above make you feel a little uneasy? That can be a clue to the legitimacy (or lack of it) of usage. If apophasis is employed to bring in irrelevant statements while it supplies a screen to hide behind, then it is not being used rightly: The "I do not mean to suggest [or imply]" construction has special problems of its own, because many writers use it quite straightforwardly to maintain clarity and to preclude jumping to conclusions by the reader. Others, however, "do not mean to imply" things that the reader would himself never dream are being implied. The suggestion is given, though, and takes hold in the brain--so that the implication is there, while being safely denied by the writer.

Apophasis is handy for reminding people of something in a polite way:

Some useful phrases for apophasis: nothing need be said about, I pass over, it need not be said (or mentioned), I will not mention (or dwell on or bring up), we will overlook ' I do not mean to suggest (or imply), you need not be reminded, it is unnecessary to bring up, we can forget about, no one would suggest.

23. Metanoia (correctio) qualifies a statement by recalling it (or part of it) and expressing it in a better, milder, or stronger way. A negative is often used to do the recalling:

Metanoia can be used to coax the reader into expanding his belief or comprehension by moving from modest to bold: Or it can be used to tone down and qualify an excessive outburst (while, of course, retaining the outburst for good effect): The most common word in the past for invoking metanoia was "nay," but this word is quickly falling out of the language and even now would probably sound a bit strange if you used it. So you should probably substitute "no" for it. Other words and phrases useful for this device include these: rather, at least, let us say, I should say, I mean, to be more exact, or better, or rather, or maybe. When you use one of the "or" phrases (or rather, or to be more exact), a comma is fine preceding the device; when you use just "no," I think a dash is most effective.

24. Aporia expresses doubt about an idea or conclusion. Among its several uses are the suggesting of alternatives without making a commitment to either or any:

Such a statement of uncertainty can tie off a piece of discussion you do not have time to pursue, or it could begin an examination of the issue, and lead you into a conclusion resolving your doubt.

Aporia can also dismiss assertions irrelevant to your discussion without either conceding or denying them:

You can use aporia to cast doubt in a modest way, as a kind of understatement: Ironic doubt--doubt about which of several closely judgable things exceeds the others, for example--can be another possibility: And you can display ignorance about something while still showing your attitude toward it or toward something else: 25. Simile is a  comparison between two different things that resemble each other in at least one way. In formal prose the simile is a device both of art and explanation, comparing an unfamiliar thing to some familiar thing (an object, event, process, etc.) known to the reader.

When you compare a noun to a noun, the simile is usually introduced by like:

When a verb or phrase is compared to a verb or phrase, as is used: Often the simile--the object or circumstances of imaginative identity (called the vehicle, since it carries or conveys a meaning about the word or thing which is likened to it)-precedes the thing likened to it (the tenor). In such cases, so usually shows the comparison: But sometimes the so is understood rather than expressed: Whenever it is not immediately clear to the reader, the point of similarity between the unlike objects must be specified to avoid confusion and vagueness. Rather than say, then, that "Money is like muck," and "Fortune is like glass," a writer will show clearly how these very different things are like each other: Many times the point of similarity can be expressed in just a word or two: And occasionally, the simile word can be used as an adjective: Similes can be negative, too, asserting that two things are unlike in one or more respects: Other ways to create similes include the use of comparison: Or the use of another comparative word is possible: So a variety of ways exists for invoking the simile. Here are a few of the possibilities:
x is like y x is not like y x is the same as y
x is more than y x is less than y x does y; so does z
x is similar to y x resembles y x is as y as z
x is y like z x is more y than z x is less y than z

But a simile can sometimes be implied, or as it is often called, submerged. In such cases no comparative word is needed:

26. Analogy compares two things, which are alike in several respects, for the purpose of explaining or clarifying some unfamiliar or difficult idea or object by showing how the idea or object is similar to some familiar one. While simile and analogy often overlap, the simile is generally a more artistic likening, done briefly for effect and emphasis, while analogy serves the more practical end of explaining a thought process or a line of reasoning or the abstract in terms of the concrete, and may therefore be more extended. Notice in these examples that the analogy is used to establish the pattern of reasoning by using a familiar or less abstract argument which the reader can understand easily and probably agree with.

Some analogies simply offer an explanation for clarification rather than a substitute argument:

When the matter is complex and the analogy particularly useful for explaining it, the analogy can be extended into a rather long, multiple-point comparison: The importance of simile and analogy for teaching and writing cannot be overemphasized. To impress this upon you better, I would like to step aside a moment and offer two persuasive quotations:

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Now You Can Buy the Book
If you enjoy learning rhetorical devices, you should get the book. Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers takes you far beyond the material here, with full discussions of 60 devices, what they are, and how to use them effectively in modern writing. The book includes more than 390 examples, as well as practice exercises, review questions, sample applications (six appendices), and more. Learn how to use these devices in your own writing. Get a copy from here: Writing With Clarity and Style, Second Edition. The book has been newly updated, expanded, and improved for 2018. As a bonus free gift to purchasers of the book, a supplement is available for download that contains hundreds of examples of the devices as used in the Bible. Get the supplement here (requires Adobe Reader).

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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at