Rhetorical terms and words for different figures of speech crop up every now and then on our Twitter feed, and are without exception brilliant, brilliant words:
But with our YouTube channel now in full swing—incredibly, this is already video number 16—we thought it might be good to dedicate an entire episode to bringing together a choice set of ten:
Many of the words language experts use to describe tropes like these—including all those included in the video—are based on Greek word roots, which are often brought together in quite inventive and memorable ways. Take one of those from the video, antanaclasis: it refers to a word being used with two different meanings, like “I can’t wait to wait tables all day” (which no one in the service industry has ever said) or “I can’t wait to bar him from the bar” (which absolutely everyone in the service industry has said). Because of this repetitious, back-and-forth arrangement, the word antanaclasis derives from the Greek word for a reflection.
Likewise another term from the video, chiasmus, takes its name from the X-shaped Greek letter chi because it refers to the criss-crossed arrangement of repeated words found in “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
And elsewhere in the rhetorician’s dictionary we find words like zeugma, which refers to the use of a single word in two different contexts in the same sentence, like “I will take my camera and some photographs”. It derives from the Greek word for an ox’s yoke, in the sense of one word “yoking” its two meanings together in one sentence.
A prodiorthosis is a warning that you’re about to deliver bad news, and essentially means “a pre-apology”. Hendiadys is the emphatic use of two separate words rather than a single word and a qualifying adjective or adverb—like “the rain and the weather spoiled our holiday” rather than “the rainy weather”—and as such literally means “one through two”. And prosopopoeia is a form of personification in which an inanimate object is portrayed as talking:
Brilliantly, it literally means “making a face”.