Tag Archives: figures of speech


Antimetabole (an’-ti-me-ta’-bo-lee): Repetition of words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order.

We go forward, we go back. We go back, we go forward. Again and again. Nothing gets resolved. “Resolved” gets nothing.

He said, “Promises are made to be kept” and he kept promising and the promises were never kept. He said at the Town Hall Meeting: “Ask not what I promised, but promise what I ask.” We all looked at each other, stunned. What he had said seemed to carry some deep meaning.

But I didn’t care what meaning it carried. I was hungry and angry!

Tonight, I wave my axe handle and move along with the crowd. We are storming the White House. We are seeking justice for the lies we had been told. We don’t have a chance of breaking down the fence, but we are moving ahead anyway.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)

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Antitheton (an-tith’-e-ton): A proof or composition constructed of contraries. Antitheton is closely related to and sometimes confused with the figure of speech that juxtaposes opposing terms, antithesis. However, it is more properly considered a figure of thought (=Topic of Invention: Contraries [a topic of invention in which one considers opposite or incompatible things that are of the same kind (if they are of different kinds, the topic of similarity / difference is more appropriate). Because contraries occur in pairs and exclude one another, they are useful in arguments because one can establish one’s case indirectly, proving one’s own assertion by discrediting the contrary]).


If lying is bad, telling the truth must be good. Seems incontrovertible, right? I wish it was that easy! The classic example: You’re hiding your neighbor from the Nazis. They ask you if you know where she is.  You know where she is, but you lie to save your neighbor’s life. Something in the circumstances trumps lying’s badness in this particular case. You may certainly (?) say that generally speaking telling the truth is the right thing to do & it’s opposite, lying, is consequentially the wrong thing to do: but not always.

So, are there any binary terms with social import that aren’t capable of shedding their ‘differences’ and swapping  consequences in particular circumstances? As in the example above, lying seems morally superior to telling the truth.  Accordingly, although telling the truth and lying are paired and will always be different by definition, in practice, in particular cases their moral valences can and should flip.

Telling the truth to Nazis about the whereabouts of your neighbor may be worse than lying, even the though the Nazis have “every legal right” to arrest your neighbor and deport her off to a concentration camp.

So, what are you going do when a law enforcement officer knocks on your door and pleasantly asks if you know the whereabouts of your undocumented Guatemalan neighbor, who you know is hiding in your garage. Lie? Tell the truth?

To be sure, the severity of the consequences for the ‘hiding’ people in the examples above may be somewhat different as are the motives behind the laws sanctioning their arrests. In both cases though, to the authorities, the people they were hunting were (and are) aliens who were (and are) fair game by law.

Think of all the people who were complicit with the Nazis: “She’s down in my basement.” “She’s hiding in my garage.”

Just remember in a particular case the truth won’t always set you free. It may burden you with doing harm to another human being.

Definitions courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Apagoresis (a-pa-gor’-e-sis): A statement designed to inhibit someone from doing something. Often uses exaggeration [or hyperbole] to persuade. It may combine an exaggeration with a cause/effect or antecedent/consequence relationship. The consequences or effects of such a phrase are usually exaggerated to be more convincing.

If you do that again there’s no doubt–none at all–that you’re going straight to Hell when you die, which may be pretty soon at the rate you’re going. This isn’t baseball where you get three strikes–this is life, and in life you get one second chance–two strikes and you’re out. 

Rachel Maddow works directly for Satan. She spreads his sulfurous lies on the television. If you let those lies enter your brain, they will take it over and soon you will be disrespecting your parents, become a vegetarian, and get a tattoo.

For the tenth time time, I forbid you to watch Rachel Maddow–or any of CNN for that matter!

God wants you to respect your parents and eat meat–good red meat.

See that blowtorch on the dining room table? It’s there to remind us of the fiery horrors of Hell. See the back of my hand? That’s where my Daddy burned me when I was about your age. Your late grandmother had him put in jail–he was convicted of attempted murder for what he did to my hand. I never understood that, but glory, did it teach me a lesson!

If I was more smart, I would’ve listened to my Daddy. But I was too stupid to listen to his threats. I picked up the TV remote control to tune in “The Rifleman” and the next thing I knew my hand was on fire. Your grandmother called 911 and the police and put the fire out by sticking my hand in a mixing bowl filled with the strawberry jello she was making.

So, obey me and you’ll be all right. Disobey me again,  and I may use the family blowtorch to give you a taste of Hell.

Definitions courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text added by Gorgias.


Aphaeresis (aph-aer’-e-sis): The omission of a syllable or letter at the beginning of a word. A kind of metaplasm.

Everything was was comin’ ‘long just like we said it would. We had a pile ‘a sliced ‘tatoes ready for the frier, a couple ‘a pounds ‘a beef patties, a dozen buns, five cans ‘a baked beans, a case ‘a beer, and just for some needed balance, a pound ‘a cole slaw. Oh–we had a gallon ‘a ketchup too!

At 3.00 pm we’d be sitting ‘long each side of the dining room table enjoying our annual winter barbecue. Dad and Mom will be sitting at the ends ‘a the table–our dignified guests!

We can’t wait!

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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Aphorismus ( a-phor-is’-mus): Calling into question the proper use of a word.

Alternative facts? There is no such thing. If there’s more than one version of a fact, only one can be right. Or, in the process of establishing a statement as a fact it might be ok to use “alternative” as a part of the process, but in the end, there can only be one version of a fact–that’s what makes it a fact as well as true.

So, developing a narrative on the basis of “alternative facts” that seeks to substitute them for the appropriately established facts in support of conclusions that would otherwise be untenable, is evil. In a way it substitutes opinion for fact–so properly understood alternative facts may rightfully be called opinions masquerading as facts. To call opinions facts is wrong: it gives them an aura of incontestability that they don’t deserve.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Apocarteresis (a-po-car-ter’-e-sis): Casting of all hope away from one thing and placing it on another source altogether.

I’ve been a vegetarian for the past 10 years. I am tired of drooling over hamburgers, lamb chops, pepperoni, roast beef, liver, kidneys, bacon, ham, steak of all kinds, goat, turkey, chicken, and all the rest of the bleeding protein that I see inhabiting dinner plates everywhere but the vegetarian diner.

I’m tired of feeling like a frustrated rabbit, a groundhog in a field, a cow in a barn, a deer in the woods, a pig in a sty, a sheep on a hillside, a goose on a pond, a rabbit in a hole.

I WANT MEAT: juicy, steaming slabs of animal flesh. Goodbye kale! Hello barbecued ribs! Goodbye Fakin’ Bacon! Hello New York Strip! Goodbye tofu!  Hello Big Mac.

That’s it! I’m changing my life from meatless to meatfull.

See you at the steakhouse.  I hope to be sitting behind a platter of meat!

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Apocope (a-pok’-o-pe): Omitting a letter or syllable at the end of a word. A kind of metaplasm.

I’m goin’ to the movies. Are you comin’ along? I want to see the new movie about the zombies that run a used car lot in the desert outside LA. I think it’s goin’ to be a fantas’ film. They specialize in Hyundais. Most people who go there to buy a car never return. That’s what you’d expect! It is WHY they don’t return that you’d never expect.  Well are you comin’? We can take my Hyundai–the one with the blood on th’ back seat. Ha ha! Just kidding!

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Apodixis (a-po-dix’-is): Proving a statement by referring to common knowledge or general experience.

They say if you grease yourself up with Vaseline, it’s just like having warm clothes on, even though you’re naked. I’ve heard of a few people trying it out & having it work.

I’m going to slather on a couple jars of Vaseline and go out to the mailbox naked and check the mail. It’s -24, so it’ll be a good test of the Vaseline “theory.” I’ve heard about it so many times it’s got to be true. Let’s find out!

20 Minutes Later:

Hello, 911? My husband went outside naked about 20 minutes ago to check the mail. He hasn’t come back yet. I have a leg problem and can’t go outside, or I’d try to find him. Can you come over and check on him? He’s naked and all shiny from Vaseline.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Apoplanesis (a-po-plan’-e-sis): Promising to address the issue but effectively dodging it through a digression.

Q: What can you tell us about the so-called “Russian connection”?

A: I can tell you a little bit–it’s about connections. We live in a world where we are entwined together. We are all connected in some way. I believe these ‘connections’ are largely the result of social media’s ubiquity. Why, I can feel my phone vibrating in my pocket right now! Ha ha!

Q: Thank you very much.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Aporia (a-po’-ri-a): Deliberating with oneself as though in doubt over some matter; asking oneself (or rhetorically asking one’s hearers) what is the best or appropriate way to approach something [=diaporesis].

I keep asking myself: “What should you do?” This Korean dictator has really made me angry–especially the comments about being old and fat. How can I respond to what he says? If I keep my mouth shut, I’ll look like a wimp, but if I say anything to him it seems to just bounce off–this guy’s impervious to verbal abuse. I can’t invade North Korea–what a mess, and very costly. So, what’s left? Try to make peace? Again, I’ll look like a wimp if I try to butter him up.  I need to maintain my tough guy persona–my base loves it and it looks great in the mirror in my bathroom. Hmmmm? So–oh–why didn’t I think of it before? Nuke him and his poverty stricken, disease ridden little dictatorship–nuke them out of existence. That’s the answer, right? Nuke him! That nation-dump will be incinerated in a minute.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Aposiopesis (a-pos-i-o-pee’-sis): Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion.

Person: You . . .  You’re President Trump! I can’t believe I’ve met you here . . . right here at Bear Bottoms! Best pole dancing club in Utah. Can I buy you a drink?

Him: No. Hmmm, uh, I thought this was a national monument–I’m looking for Bears Ears, not bottoms. I must’ve taken a wrong turn back there in Salt Lake City somewhere.

Person: But this is clearly a bar–and a sleazy one at that!  How could you possibly mistake it for a pair of mesas out in the middle of nowhere?

Him: Security! Take this guy for a walk.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Apostrophe (a-pos’-tro-phe): Turning one’s speech from one audience to another. Most often, apostrophe occurs when one addresses oneself to an abstraction, to an inanimate object, or to the absent.

There was a time when we had faith in you cruel Democracy!

We were naive to think that our will would prevail in a world soaked with stupidity, malice, prejudice and fear: Stupidity, Malice, Prejudice and Fear–you are the death knell of democracy’s hope. As you circle freedom’s skies tolling loudly, drowning out the sounds of love, optimism, charity and peace people look up to you, able only to hear your rumbling spite-filled proclamations.

When the peoples’ will is rotten, where do we turn to save democracy’s soul? We turn to you Democracy! To persuasion. To truth. To the light of day and the bright guiding stars of night.

Together, we shall close the abyss and pave the way toward better days: days that celebrate our faith in “we the people” and the mysterious bonds of friendship and trust that can bind us together without without tying us down: that can fulfill our need for autonomy and connectedness: my need for me and our need for us.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Apothegm (a’-po-th-e-gem): One of several terms describing short, pithy sayings. Others include adage, gnomemaximparoemiaproverb, and sententia.

If it’s illegal, or you don’t have the time or energy, but you just don’t want to completely quit, remember the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, slap ’em around a little bit.” A few well-placed little owies can prove a point with just about anybody!

Whatever you do, don’t follow this advice: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Many a bleeding-heart reformist went down this road, and where did they end up? Ask Patricia Hearst. Benedict Arnold? Guy Fawkes? Wang Jingwei?

Take my advice and you won’t become a traitor, or more important, you won’t turn against yourself.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Appositio (ap-po-sit’-i-o): Addition of an adjacent, coordinate, explanatory or descriptive element.

What’s going to happen next in national politics as we trudge into 2018. That is, there is so much up in the air with legal problems that it can’t be juggled or shot down! Most of it circles around pre-election Russian involvement with the White House–AKA President Trump and his Administration and their attempt to work with Russia to influence the election in President Trump’s favor.

I am looking forward to all of it being decided so it no longer provides the context for interpreting the motive of nearly everything the President does.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Ara (a’-ra): Cursing or expressing detest towards a person or thing for the evils they bring, or for inherent evil.

Donald Trump: Satan’s minion. Damn everything that you have done and damn you too! There is not one measure you’ve enacted or piece of legislation you have supported that resonates with your supposed Christian values. For example, which Christian value does taking Medicaid benefits away from children adhere to? Faith? Hope? Charity? Loving your neighbor? Loving God with all your heart?

As Chief Counsel Joseph Welch said to Senator Joe McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency?”

Look in the mirror: you are going to hell Mr. Sinner-in-Chief. You have no sense of decency.

Repent and change your sinful ways before it is too late! Get down on your knees and beg for your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to enter your heart and fill it with love, and cleanse your soul of its wickedness, greed, and vanity. For the sake of your family. For the sake of the USA. For the sake of the world. Repent!

Jesus will hear your prayer of salvation. Say it!

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Articulus (ar-tic’-u-lus): Roughly equivalent to “phrase” in English, except that the emphasis is on joining several phrases (or words) successively without any conjunctions (in which case articulus is simply synonymous with the Greek term asyndeton). See also brachylogia.

Articulus is also best understood in terms of differing speeds of style that depend upon the length of the elements of a sentence. The Ad Herennium author contrasts the the slower speed of concatenated membra (see membrum) to the quicker speed possible via articulus.

The Trumps!

Ivanka. Donald. Donald Jr. Melania. Tiffany. Barron. Eric.

The Trumps!

Ivanka is lovely and greedy.

Donald is lost.

Donald Jr. needs a few more visits to the orthodontist.

Melania wants a divorce.

Tiffany is a mystery.

Barron looks tired and malnourished.

Eric is terminally clueless.

The Trumps!

Definition and commentary courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Aschematiston: The use of plain, unadorned or unornamented language. Or, the unskilled use of figurative language. A vice. [Outside of any particular context of use or sense of its motive, it may be difficult to determine what’s “plain, unadorned or unornamented language.” The same is true of the “unskilled use of figurative language.”]

1. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. Then comes Friday. Friday is payday. Starting at 5.00pm, it is the best day of the week. It’s when the Senators and Representatives take off their shirts and hang around the mall.

2. The sky is clouded with big clouds, like floating Brillo pads hovering over bedsheets of snow. Winter has arrived and I am headed to the air-conditioned wonderland brimming with swimming pool hopes and coconut pies. It’s like watching a puppy wag its tail. Mexico, here I come!

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text added by Gorgias.


Asphalia (as-fay’-li-a): Offering oneself as a guarantee, usually for another.

To Whom It May Concern:

I can vouch for my nephew Sid. On the surface he looks like a dishonest, violent, reprobate. Those things that he’s done are completely out of character! I know Sid and he would have a good reason for “beating up” his girlfriend–we don’t have to know anything more than what he’s told us and one thing’s for sure Sid’s not a liar.  He’s pretty small and self-defense seems like a reasonable motive–somehow the little guy won the round this time. He must’ve figured out some winning boxing moves.

In short, Sid is a good boy.

As you probably know, I am writing this from my cell at Ossining. So, you know I have nothing to gain by lying, as I have been completely reformed and helping my nephew out of a scrape will never count toward my parole.

If I’m wrong about Sid, add another 10 years to my sentence! I (a beacon of good behavior) stand behind Sid 1,000 percent. Trust me! I wouldn’t con you!

Yours truly,


Ponzi McDough

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Assonance (ass’-o-nance): Repetition of similar vowel sounds, preceded and followed by different consonants, in the stressed syllables of adjacent words.

You’ve heard it before: “The truth will set you free.” It’ll get you more than you can see. For the truth itself goes unseen, except perhaps when a word like “justice” is printed on a page. It doesn’t take a sage to know that truth’s ‘exemplars’ can cause rage as the accounts of exemplars are conflicted and must be argued out: but even then, the anger may rise higher and higher like like a fire until the conflicted accounts burn themselves out, consume their proponents in disagreement’s flames, burst forth in sparks of persuasion as one party’s mind changes, or gently warm the arguers with the glow of  humanity and acceptance of their mutual fallibility.

The truth will set you free when you embrace your imperfection.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Assumptio (as-sump’-ti’o): The introduction of a point to be considered, especially an extraneous argument. See proslepsis (When paralipsis [stating and drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over] is taken to its extreme. The speaker provides full details.).

I’m not going to talk about the Department of State–what’s left of it. A bunch of positions haven’t been filled and diplomats are being fired right and left. The hallways are empty. Might as well turn off the power and shut the place down.

This brings up the question: How are government agencies staffed? What kind of rationales (if any) need to be developed to grow or shrink them? How is an agency’s mission factored into its staffing, or elimination altogether? What are the puts and takes connected to staffing and restaffing?

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).


Asteismus (as-te-is’-mus): Polite or genteel mockery. More specifically, a figure of reply in which the answerer catches a certain word and throws it back to the first speaker with an unexpected twist. Less frequently, a witty use of allegory or comparison, such as when a literal and an allegorical meaning are both implied.

Paul R.: I would never collude with the Russians!

Adam S.: You better hope you’re right or you’ll never get out of prison.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)


Astrothesia (as-tro-the’-si-a): A vivid description of stars. One type of enargia.

To be outside and to look up on a cold clear November night is to see a sky filled with twinkling stars. They will take your breath away if you let them: especially if you look at the Milky Way–a carpet of fiery points pointing everywhere, close together, seeming like lighted milk spilled across the sky.

Stars. There, every clear night. An inexhaustible source of wonder, faith, and joy.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).



Asyndeton (a-syn’-de-ton): The omission of conjunctions between clauses, often resulting in a hurried rhythm or vehement effect. [Compare brachylogia. Opposite of polysyndeton.]

Hope. Fear. Love. Hate. Life. Death. Now. Never. We are morally, intellectually, experientially buffeted by opposites all of our lives. Without knowing or caring we rarely hit the extremes. Rather, we just hum along until we are jolted by life’s unpredictable exigences & it may be the unpredictability that vexes us the most. It tears at our agency and leaves us to choose how to understand what we can’t control–to face a terrible omen that is void of intrinsic meaning and bereft of any guiding indices: that may be interpreted, but never known.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text added by Gorgias.


Auxesis (ok-see’-sis): (1) Arranging words or clauses in a sequence of increasing force. In this sense, auxesis is comparable to climax and has sometimes been called incrementum.  (2) A figure of speech in which something is referred to in terms disproportionately large (a kind of exaggeration or hyperbole). (3) Amplification in general.

(1.) Work, earn, save, retire, die. Each one of these words is filled with so much meaning a book could be written about them. Words are like that: they are spacious.

(2.) The humble ant is a mighty powerhouse of strength, a shining exemplar of courage, and a perfectly meshed team player. However, all you need to do step on the little insect, and that’s the end of that.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).



Bdelygmia (del-ig’-mi-a): Expressing hatred and abhorrence of a person, word, or deed.

Everything about you is either disgusting or laughable. Your hair looks like frozen yellow tinsel (probably stolen from the Dollar Store) tacked to your head with duct tape or staples.

You have told so many lies that most people have stopped taking you seriously or listening to you at all. Maybe that’s why you like Big Whoppers so much: they’re named after your favorite way of speaking. 

It is impossible to imagine where this raft of flotsam called the ‘administration’ is headed. Maybe it’ll go missing in the Bermuda Triangle or run aground in the Bering Strait–somewhere near Провиде́ния (Provideniya).

Anyway, I just wish you’d resign.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).