Episode 352: January 17, 2013
by Lisa B. Marshall
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When you hear the term “figures of speech,” you probably think of metaphors, similes, and idioms. I like to think of these as the salt and pepper that spice up words.
But sometimes even with salt and pepper, our food still tastes bland; we need a wider array of spices. Different combinations make the food taste different—at times radically different.
Today, I'd like to talk about the slightly more uncommon figures of speech: anaphora, antithesis, chiasmus, metonymy and synecdoche. I like to think of these as the paprika, cardamom, and saffron of language. These figures of speech convey meanings in a more vivid and impressive manner both in writing and speaking. Use them in different combinations to add depth and emotion to your writing.
Anaphora means starting two or more sentences, phrases, or verses with the same word or words. Anaphora means your words will sound repetitive, but don’t let that stop you from using it. That’s the point of anaphora. That’s why it’s convincing. That’s why it’s effective. That’s why it’s powerful.
Justin Bieber fans and their parents know that his hit song “Never Say Never” is one of those tunes that you can’t get out of your head. Blame anaphora for that.
. . . I never thought that I could walk through fire
I never thought that I could take a burn
I never had the strength to take it higher
Until I reached the point of no return
Because anaphora is so memorable, advertisers frequently create slogans using this rhetorical tool; in fact, as I was writing this very sentence I heard a Wendy’s commercial that included this phrase:
“Right Price. Right Size Menu.”
Another advertising example I noticed recently is: “Choose Sony. Choose Wisely.”
In anaphora, the repeated word joins the phrases together. In this case, it does so with the goal of leaving the impression Sony equals a wise choice. It’s simple. It’s clever. It’s powerful. (By the way, did you notice that both ads also used another figure of speech? That’s right—alliteration—the repeat of “s” sound.)
What’s important to remember is that anaphora is repetitive. What’s important to remember is that the repetition is what makes it effective and memorable.
Antithesis uses two contrasting ideas, words, or phrases together to balance each other out.
Advertisers often use figures of speech because they can efficiently express ideas and they’re memorable. Do you remember the old Mounds and Almond Joy commercial jingle “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t”? In this famous jingle, written by Leon Carr, using just fifteen words and antithesis as the rhetorical tool, this ad cleverly and most importantly memorably highlights the difference in the candy.
Here are a few more examples of antithesis that you’ve probably heard and remember.
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14
"To err is human, to forgive, divine." Alexander Pope. Perhaps the most famous example of antithesis.
'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Said by Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon.*
Chiasmus [kahy-az-muh s]
When Squiggly says to Aardvark “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” he’s using antithesis, but he’s using a special type called chiasmus. Chiasmus puts parallel phrases in reverse order to make a point. I prefer to refer to this one as “crisscross apple sauce” –can you tell I have young children?
My favorite example of this is classic advertising jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand 'cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” From advertising point of view, we repeat what we remember and remember what we repeat.
Using chiasmus can be fun too; here’s one that made me chuckle:
"It was Old Granddad that really made Granddad old.”
or thought provoking:
"Many youthful men long for fame, and many famous men long for youth."
Next we have metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech where a word or phrase is replaced with a similar word that represents it. In many cases, the metonym is more commonly used than the actual term.
For example, recently Squiggly asked Aardvark, “When Hollywood knows my name, do you think I’ll still be able to eat chocolate?
And read online that Katy Perry recently said, “Hollywood is so fake and people need to realize that people are just people . . .”
Of course, when Katy and Squiggly use the word “Hollywood” they are referring to professional actors or celebrities, not the town of Hollywood – and we know that because that’s how those words are commonly used. It’s like when we call the news media “the press.” When we refer to the U.S. President and staff as “The White House,” or we refer to Wall Street, Broadway, or The Pentagon, we are using common metonyms.
Finally, that last one we’ll cover is synecdoche, which is a specific type of metonymy that uses a part to represent the whole. You’ll find that body parts are often used to represent a person. For example the idiom “all hands on deck” means we need as many people as possible to help out. The term “butts in seats” can mean the number of people at an event, or the number of employees at a company. But it could be any part representing a whole, for example, we refer to a new car as “a new set of wheels.”
Another way we use synecdoche is when we refer to a brand name in place of a product. For example, many of us ask for a Kleenex when we want a tissue or we offer Band-Aids when someone needs a bandage.
Read Part Two How to Create and Use Figures of Speech
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker, in this week for Grammar Girl. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
Check out Lisa's new book, Smart Talk, a Swiss Army knife of communication.
* Most people know this quotation as “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, but Neil Armstrong says he was misquoted and that he actually said “one small step for a man...”