Education and Information Site VirtualSalt A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, Page 6 Robert A. Harris
January 26, 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

36. Epithet is an adjective or adjective phrase appropriately qualifying a subject (noun) by naming a key or important characteristic of the subject, as in "laughing happiness," "sneering contempt," "untroubled sleep," "peaceful dawn," and "lifegiving water." Sometimes a metaphorical epithet will be good to use, as in "lazy road," "tired landscape," "smirking billboards," "anxious apple." Aptness and brilliant effectiveness are the key considerations in choosing epithets. Be fresh, seek striking images, pay attention to connotative value.

A transferred epithet is an adjective modifying a noun which it does not normally modify, but which makes figurative sense:

The striking and unusual quality of the transferred epithet calls attention to it, and it can therefore be used to introduce emphatically an idea you plan to develop. The phrase will stay with the reader, so there is no need to repeat it, for that would make it too obviously rhetorical and even a little annoying. Thus, if you introduce the phrase, "diluted electricity," your subsequent development ought to return to more mundane synonyms, such as "low voltage," "brownouts," and so forth. It may be best to save your transferred epithet for a space near the conclusion of the discussion where it will be not only clearer (as a synonym for previously stated and clearly understandable terms) but more effective, as a kind of final, quintessential, and yet novel conceptualization of the issue. The reader will love it.

37. Hyperbaton includes several rhetorical devices involving departure from normal word order. One device, a form of inversion, might be called delayed epithet, since the adjective follows the noun. If you want to amplify the adjective, the inversion is very useful:

But the delayed epithet can also be used by itself, though in only a relatively few cases: Some rhetoricians condemn delayed epithet altogether in formal writing because of its potential for abuse. Each case must be tested carefully, to make sure it does not sound too poetic: And especially make sure the phrase is not affected, offensive, or even disgusting: I cannot give you a rule (why does "countenance sad" seem okay when "countenance friendly" does not?) other than to consult your own taste or sense of what sounds all right and what does not.

A similar form of inversion we might call divided epithets. Here two adjectives are separated by the noun they modify, as in Milton's "with wandering steps and slow." Once again, be careful, but go ahead and try it. Some examples:

Another form of hyperbaton involves the separation of words normally belonging together, done for effect or convenience: You can emphasize a verb by putting it at the end of the sentence: You might want to have a friend check your excursions into hyperbatonic syntax, and if he looks at you askance and says, "My, talk funny you do," you might want to do a little rewriting. But, again, do not mark this off your list just because you might not be always successful at it.

38. Parenthesis, a final form of hyperbaton, consists of a word, phrase, or whole sentence inserted as an aside in the middle of another sentence:

The violence involved in jumping into (or out of) the middle of your sentence to address the reader momentarily about something has a pronounced effect. Parenthesis can be circumscribed either by dashes--they are more dramatic and forceful--or by parentheses (to make your aside less stringent). This device creates the effect of extemporaneity and immediacy: you are relating some fact when suddenly something very important arises, or else you cannot resist an instant comment, so you just stop the sentence and the thought you are on right where they are and insert the fact or comment. The parenthetical form also serves to give some statements a context (stuffed right into the middle of another sentence at the most pertinent point) which they would not have if they had to be written as complete sentences following another sentence. Note that in the first example above the bit of moralizing placed into the sentence appears to be more natural and acceptable than if it were stated separately as a kind of moral conclusion, which was not the purpose or drift of the article.

39. Alliteration is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds. The repetition can be juxtaposed (and then it is usually limited to two words):

This two-word alliteration calls attention to the phrase and fixes it in the reader's mind, and so is useful for emphasis as well as art. Often, though, several words not next to each other are alliterated in a sentence. Here the use is more artistic. And note in the second example how wonderfully alliteration combines with antithesis: 40. Onomatopoeia is the use of words whose pronunciation imitates the sound the word describes. "Buzz," for example, when spoken is intended to resemble the sound of a flying insect. Other examples include these: slam, pow, screech, whirr, crush, sizzle, crunch, wring, wrench, gouge, grind, mangle, bang, blam, pow, zap, fizz, urp, roar, growl, blip, click, whimper, and, of course, snap, crackle, and pop. Note that the connection between sound and pronunciation is sometimes rather a product of imagination ("slam" and "wring" are not very good imitations). And note also that written language retains an aural quality, so that even unspoken your writing has a sound to it. Compare these sentences, for instance: Onomatopoeia can produce a lively sentence, adding a kind of flavoring by its sound effects:

The flies buzzing and whizzing around their ears kept them from finishing the experiment at the swamp.

41. Apostrophe interrupts the discussion or discourse and addresses directly a person or personified thing, either present or absent. Its most common purpose in prose is to give vent to or display intense emotion, which can no longer be held back: Apostrophe does not appear very often in argumentative writing because formal argument is by its nature fairly restrained and intellectual rather than emotional; but under the right circumstances an apostrophe could be useful: 42. Enthymeme is an informally-stated syllogism which omits either one of the premises or the conclusion. The omitted part must be clearly understood by the reader. The usual form of this logical shorthand omits the major premise: An enthymeme can also be written by omitting the minor premise: It is also possible to omit the conclusion to form an enthymeme, when the two premises clearly point to it: Whenever a premise is omitted in an enthymeme (and understood by the reader), it is assumed to be either a truism or an acceptable and non-controversial generalization. But sometimes the omitted premise is one with which the reader would not agree, and the enthymeme then becomes a logical fallacy-an unacceptable enthymeme. What are the omitted premises here, and why are they unacceptable? It goes without saying that you should be careful in your own writing not to use enthymemes dishonestly--that is, not to use clearly controversial assertions for the omitted premises.

Aside from its everyday use as a logical shorthand, enthymeme finds its greatest use in writing as an instrument for slightly understating yet clearly pointing out some assertion, often in the form of omitted conclusion. By making the reader work out the syllogism for himself, you impress the conclusion upon him, yet in a way gentler than if you spelled it out in so many words:

43. Climax (gradatio) consists of arranging words, clauses, or sentences in the order of increasing importance, weight, or emphasis. Parallelism usually forms a part of the arrangement, because it offers a sense of continuity, order, and movement-up the ladder of importance. But if you wish to vary the amount of discussion on each point, parallelism is not essential. In addition to arranging sentences or groups of short ideas in climactic order, you generally should also arrange the large sections of ideas in your papers, the points in your arugments, and the examples for your generalizations climactically; although in these cases, the first item should not be the very least important (because its weakness might alienate the reader). Always begin with a point or proof substantial enough to generate interest, and then continue with ideas of increasing importance. That way your argument gets stronger as it moves along, and every point hits harder than the previous one.

44. Diacope: repetition of a word or phrase after an intervening word or phrase as a method of emphasis: 45. Antimetabole: reversing the order of repeated words or phrases (a loosely chiastic structure, AB-BA) to intensify the final formulation, to present alternatives, or to show contrast: 46. Antiphrasis: one word irony, established by context: 47. Epizeuxis: repetition of one word (for emphasis): 48. Aposiopesis: stopping abruptly and leaving a statement unfinished: 49. Anacoluthon: finishing a sentence with a different grammatical structure from that with which it began: 50. Enumeratio: detailing parts, causes, effects, or consequences to make a point more forcibly: 51. Antanagoge: placing a good point or benefit next to a fault criticism, or problem in order to reduce the impact or significance of the negative point: 52. Parataxis: writing successive independent clauses, with coordinating conjunctions, or no conjunctions: In this last example above, note that a string of very short sentences can be connected by commas when the elements are parallel. Longer sentences and unparallel sentence structures need at least semicolons to connect them.

53. Hypotaxis: using subordination to show the relationship between clauses or phrases (and hence the opposite of parataxis):

54. Sententia: quoting a maxim or wise saying to apply a general truth to the situation; concluding or summing foregoing material by offering a single, pithy statement of general wisdom: 55. Exemplum: citing an example; using an illustrative story, either true or fictitious: Examples can be introduced by the obvious choice of "For example," but there are other possibilities. For quick introductions, such as those attached to a sentence, you migiht use "such as," or "for instance." Examples placed into separate sentences can be introduced by "A case in point," "An instance," "A typical situation,"  "A common example," "To illustrate, let's consider the situation," and so forth.

Pleonasm: using more words than required to express an idea; being redundant. Normally a vice, it is done on purpose on rare occasions for emphasis:

57. Assonance: similar vowel sounds repeated in successive or proximate words containing different consonants:
58. Dirimens Copulatio: mentioning a balancing or opposing fact to prevent the argument from being one-sided or unqualified: 59. Symploce: combining anaphora and epistrophe, so that one word or phrase is repeated at the beginning and another word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences: 60. Appositive: a noun or noun substitute placed next to (in apposition to) another noun to be described or defined by the appositive. Don't think that appositives are for subjects only and that they always follow the subject. The appositive can be placed before or after any noun: With very short appositives, the commas setting off the second noun from the first are often omitted:

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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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