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Types of Figures of Speech



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Types of Figures of Speech

Quite a number of figures of speech are based upon the principle of recurrence. Recurrent may be elements of different linguistic layers: lexical, syntactic, morphological, phonetic. Some figures of speech, as will be shown below, emerge as a result of a simultaneous interaction of several principles of poetic expression, i. e. the principle of contrast 4- recurrence; recurrence -f analogy; recurrence + incomplete representation, etc.

Parallel ism as a figure of speech is based upon a recurrence of syntactically identical sequences which lexically are completely or partially different. E. g. "She was a good servant, she walked softly, she was a determined woman, she walked precisely." (G. Greene) "They were all three from Milan, and one of them was to be a lawyer, and one was to be a painter, and one had intended to be a soldier..." (E. Hemingway) Parallelism strongly affects the rhythmical organization of an utterance and gives it a special emphasis, so it is imminent in oratorio art as well as in impassioned poetry:

^ You've hit no traitor on the hip,

You've dashed no cup from perjured lip,

You've never turned the wrong to right,

You've been a coward in the fight. (Ch. Mackay)

The elements of the juxtaposed parts due to their juxtaposition merge to create one single image.1 (See the above quoted examples.)

Parallelism should not be mixed up with repetition. As the word "repetition" itself suggests, this unit of poetic speech is based upon a repeated occurrence of one and the same word or word-group. E.g. "You cannot, sir, take from me anything I will more willingly part withal except my life, except my life, except my life." (W. Shakespeare) "I wouldn't mind him if he wasn't so conceited and didn't bore me, and bore me, and bore me." (E. Hemingway)

Depending upon the position a repeated unit occupies in the utterance there are distinguished four types of repetition.

1) Anaphora — repetition of the first word or word-group in several successive sentences, clauses or phrases. E.g. "^ I love your hills, and 1 love your dales. And I love your flocks a-bleating." (J. Keats) "Justice waited behind a wooden counter in a high stool; it wore a heavy moustache; it was kindly and had six children...; it wasn't really interested in Philip, but it pretended to be, it wrote the address down and sent a constable to fetch a glass of milk." (G. Greene)

2) Epiphora — repetition of the final word or word-group. E. g.
"I wake up and I'm alone, and I walk round Warlley and I'm alone, and I talk with people and I'm alone." (J. Braine)

3) Anadiplosis (catch repetition) — repetition at the beginning of the ensuing phrase, clause or sentence of a word or a word-group that has occurred in initial, the middle or the final position of the preceding word-se quence. E. g. But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man. (W. Shakespeare)

"... there lived a bad man who kept a bad pig. He was a bad man because he laughed too much at the wrong times and at the wrong people. He laughed at the good brothers of M— when they came to the door for a bit of whiskey or a piece of silver, and he laughed all the time." (J. Steinbeck)

4) Framing, or ring repetition — repetition of the same unit at the beginning and at the end of the same sentence, stanza, or paragraph.

^ How beautiful is the rain!

After the dust and heat,

In the broad and fiery street

In the narrow lane

How beautiful is the rain!

(H. W. Longfellow)


Polysyndeton is an insistent repetition of a connective between words, phrases or clauses in an utterance. E. g. "They were all three from Milan and one of. them was to be a lawyer, and one was to be a painter, and one had intended to be a soldier, and after we were finished with the machines, sometimes we walked back together to the Cafe Cova." (E. Hemingway)

Asyndeton, on the contrary, is a deliberate avoidance of connectives, e.g. "He never tired of their (pictures) presence, they represented a substantial saving in death-duties." (G. Greene)

Both these devices, though each other's opposites, are equal in expressiveness. The omission of a connective as well as its supra-average occurrence may be suggestive in a variety of ways. Thus, the repeated "and" in the above quoted sentence from E. Hemingway's story "In Another Country" suggests and emphasizes the fact that the fates of the three men from Milan were equally tragic: none of them had turned out to be what they had intended to be, while the omission of the connective "for", or "because" in the example from G. Greene's story "Special Duties" is a way of emphasizing the fact that it was the material benefit that he (Mr. Ferraro) valued most in the pictures.

Both these devices are widely used in contemporary narrative prose. In the works of some writers their occurrences are quite prominent, as, for instance, in the works of E. Hemingway. In fact, E. Hemingway is reputed as master of endowing these devices with exceptionally suggestive overtones.


Climax (gradation) is another unit of poetic speech based on the recurrence of a certain syntactic pattern. In each recurrent sequence the lexical unit is either emotionally stronger or logically more important. E. g "Walls — palaces — half-cities, have been reared." (G. Byron) "Janet Spence's parlour-maid was ... ugly on purpose ... malignantly, criminally ugly." (A. Huxley)

Sometimes lexical units, when merely enumerated, cannot be considered as more emotional or less emotional, more important or less important, but as soon as they are arranged in a certain sequence they acquire a graded quality as in: "He lived — he breathed — he moved — he felt." (G. Byron) "She rose — she sprung — she clung to his embrace." (G.Byron) A-lexical unit may seem to be emotionally stronger by the mere fact that it is placed last in a sequence of syntactically identical units, e. g. "The thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valor­ous". (J. Joyce) "Just then the hyena stopped whimpering in the night and started to make a strange, human, almost crying sound." (E. Hemingway) A very subtle effect is produced by a gradation which is based on the recurrence of the same lexical morpheme represented by different grammar classes. E. g. "He was sleepy. He felt sleep coming. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep." (E. Hemingway)

Anticlimax (bathos) is the reverse of climax. In this figure of speech emotion or logical importance accumulates only to be unexpectedly broken and brought down. The sudden reversal usually brings forth a humorous or ironic effect, as in the following: "She felt that she did not really know these people, that she would never know them; she wanted to go on seeing them, being with them, and living with rapture in their workaday world. But she did not do this." (A. Coppard)

Suspense (retardation) is a deliberate delay in the completion of the expressed thought. What has been delayed is the loading task of the utterance and the reader awaits the completion of the utterance with an ever-increasing tension. A suspense is achieved by a repeated occurrence of phrases or clauses expressing condition, supposition, time, and the like, all of which hold back the conclusion of the utterance. A classical example of a skilful use of suspense is R. Kipling's famous poem "If. The title itself suggests suspense. The poem consists of eight stanzas and it is only in the last two lines of the last, eighth stanza, that the sentence and the thought are completed. Here is another example of suspense. (J. Keat's masterpiece "When I Have Fears")

When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain, Before high-piled books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain; When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love; — then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Sometimes the conclusion of the suspended utterance goes contrary to the aroused expectations, a device often practised for humorous effects, as in: "The little boy, whose heart was too full for utterance, chewing a piece of licorice stick he had bought with a cent stolen from his good and pious aunt, with sobs plainly audible and with great globules of water running down his cheeks, glided silently down the marble steps of the bank." (M. Twain)


Zeugma is a figure of speech which consists of one main element and a number of adjuncts. The adjuncts represent semantically different word-classes thus differing in the type and degree of cohesion with the main element. E. g. "He had a good taste for wine and whiskey and an emergency bell in his bedroom." (G. Greene), where the verb "had" simultaneously governs such two unrelated sequences as "a good taste for", and "an emergency bell". The contrast between the syntactic identity of adjuncts and their semantic incompatibility is a means of creating different connotative effects (humorous, ironic, etc.) E. g. "Either you or your head must be off." (L. Carroll) "Juan was a bachelor of arts, and parts, and hearts." (G. Byron)

Alliteration is based upon a recurrence of similar consonant sounds in a line or an utterance. It is a valuable element of poetic speech. It gives rhythm to an utterance. And rhythm is generally defined as a combination of the repeated and the variable, with the repeated as the ruling factor. Consider as an illustration the following lines from A. Pope's poem about Sisythius:

^ With many a weary stop, and many a groan

Up a high hill he heaves a huge round stone

The huge round stone, resulting with a bound

Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.

The rhythm and the sound of the recurrent [w], [hi, is], Irl make one clearly perceive a stone moving slowly upward and rolling violently back.

As it has been shown in Chapter I (see pp. 18-19) recurrent sounds may produce the effect of natural sounds imitation, as in:

^ With the rushing of great rivers

With their frequent repetition

And their wild reverberations

As of thunder in the mountains. (H. Longfellow)

Where the repeated [r] suggests a violent rush of water in the river. The figures of speech discussed below are based on contrast or, in some cases contrast -f- recurrence as the main principle of their poetic arrangement and expression.

Antithesis is a phrase, a sentence or a group of such in which a thing (or a concept) is measured against, or contrasted to, its opposite. E. g. "Too brief for our passion, too long for our peace." (G. Byron) "If he hadn't gone to school, he'd met the scholars; if he hadn't gone into the house, he had knocked at the door." (S. O'Casey) "Their wrath how deadly! but their friendship sure." (G. Byron) "Immortal, though no more; though fallen, great!" (G.Byron)

As may be seen from the examples given above antithesis emerges as a result of a contraposition of two or more words, the contraposed words being either antonyms, as in: brieflong, or contrastive in some of their meaning-components as in: wrath friendship. Sometimes words generally not contrastive in meaning acquire this quality due to their contraposition as, for instance, the words gone met.

Parallelism is the organizing axis of antithesis. Sometimes, though, parallelism is substituted by a common point of reference and alliteration, as in the proverb "All that glitters is not gold," where the antithesis between glitter not gold is achieved by a common point of reference — glittering — brought out by the alliteration of "glit", "gold".

In poetry whole pieces may be built up entirely on a string of antitheses, as, for example, in W. Shakespeare's well-known madrigal as, for example, in W. Shakespeare's well-known madrigal.

Crabbed age and youth cannot live together

Youth is full of pleasure, age is full of care

Youth like summer morn, age like winter weather

Youth like summer brave, age like winter bare

Oxymoron is a kind of antithesis in that it is also based upon a contrast between two words. But contrary to the antithesis where contrastive words are contraposed (in parallel constructions), in the oxymoron contrastive words may be juxtaposed as modifier and modified, e..g, "The enchanting tale, the tale of pleasing woe." (J. Keats) "Oh, the sweetness of the pain." (J. Keats) "The glories of their particular France so nicely rotting." (S. Lewis) "Parting is such sweet sorrow." (W. Shakespeare) "She was filled with a glad terror." (A. Myrer) "The unreached Paradise of our despair." (G! Byron) "The wordy silence troubled her." (O. Wilde)

Also as a verb + a noun governed by the verb, e. g, "He had lived a very long time with death and was a little detached." (E. Hemingway); or: "Doomed to liberty." (O. Henry)

The juxtaposition of two contrastive words is not in essence illogical for with the help of it the speaker emphasizes the complex nature of the thing spoken about: both elements of the pair bring out some feature or quality of the thing or phenomenon spoken about. E.g. "'Fortunately/ he said 'we can share our pleasures. We are not always condemned to be happy alone.'" (A. Huxley) In the majority of cases the modifier conveys the author's or the character's personal attitude towards what is modified, e. g. sweet sorrow; glad terror; nicety rotting.

In an original oxymoron, as could be seen in the above given examples, the denotative meaning correlates with the connotative meaning and the latter does not contradict but in fact' helps to grasp the denotation more readily. Frequently repeated oxymorons become trite and lexicalized. Some of them are nothing other than intensifies: awfully nice, mighty small, frightfully happy. Original oxymorons do not often occur in texts but their scarcity does not speak of their inexpressiveness. In fact, as already stated, they help to reveal the inner contradictions that underlie objective phenomena; they are considered to be a special form of paradox.


Paradox is also based on contrast, being a statement contradictory to what is accepted as a self-evident or proverbial truth. E. g. UI think that life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it." (O. Wilde) "My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to • know better, they don't know anything at all." (O. Wilde) "A smock so artistic and modern and novel that it might have been worn by her grandmother." (S. Lewis) "I never like giving information to the police. It saves them trouble." (G. Greene) "Wine costs money, blood costs nothing." (B. Shaw)

The appeal of a paradox lies in the fact that, however contradictory it may seem to be to the accepted maxim, it contains, nevertheless, a certain grain of truth, which makes it an excellent vehicle of satire. Indeed, it is a device much favoured by many English and American satirists.

Paradox can be considered a figure of speech with certain reservations, since the aesthetic principle, that underlies it, i. e. contrast has divers linguistic manifestations.

Pun (paronomasia, a play on words) is a figure of speech emerging as an effect created by words similar or identical in their sound form and contrastive or incompatible in meaning.

The sound form played upon may be either a polysemantic word, as in: "Her nose was sharp, but not so, sharp as her voice or the suspiciousness with which she faced Martin." (S. Lewis) "... Were it not here apparent that thou art heir apparent." (W. Shakespeare); or complete/ partial homonyms, as in: "So sound as things that are hollow." (W. Shakespeare); or: "The Importance of Being Earnest" (O. Wilde); or: "But what trade art thou? Answer me directly. A trade, sir, that I hope, I may use with a safe conscience which is indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles." (W. Shakespeare) The meanings inherent in the sound complex may be either simultaneously realized (see the example with the words sound, earnest, sole) or kept distinct and interwoven with one another in a decorative fashion, as in: "Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but 'aye1 and that bare vowel Т shall poison more than the death-darting eye of cockatrice." (W. Shakespeare)

However playful is the effect of pun, however intricate and sudden is the merging of senses in one sound complex, in a truly talented work this unit of poetic speech snares equally with others in the expression of the author's message; it is a vehicle of the author's thought and not a mere decoration. Consider, for instance, the following: "Oh, nowadays we are all of us so hard up that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They are the only things we can pay." (O. Wilde) Let me be cruel, not unnatural: I will speak daggers to her, but use none; My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites. (W, Shakespeare)


The figures of speech called understatement, litotes, overstatement are also based on contrast: the contrast is between the real and the expressed values of the object.

Understatement is an expression of an idea in an excessively restrained language, e. g. He knows a thing or two"; "Mr. Ferraro thought at first that it was the warmth of the day that had caused her to be so inefficiently clothed ..." (G. Greene)


Litotes, a specific form of understatement, consists in the use of a negative for the contrary, as in: "He had not been unhappy all day." (E. Hemingway) "The figures of. these men and women straggled past the flower-bed with a curiously irregular movement not unlike that of the white and blue butterflies." (V. Woolf) "God has made man in his image, and it was not unreasonable for Mr. Ferraro to return the compliment..." (G. Greene)

Connotative effects produced by litotes as well as by understatements are varied. It may be a characteristic instance of an author's generally restrained tone of writing as is the case with E. Hemingway, or a way of rendering subtle irony as could be seen in the quoted examples from G. Greene's story, etc.


Overstatement (hyperbole) as the word itself suggests is an expression of an idea in an exceedingly exaggerate language, e. g. "That was fiercely annoying". (A.Coppard) "Their flat was a fourth floor one and there was — O, fifteen thousand stairs!" (A. Coppard) "I'd cross the world to find you a pin." (A. Coppard)

Whereas various forms of litotes and understatement are an expression of a restrained, non-committal or subtly ironic tone of writing, supra-average cases of overstatement, on the contrary, are characteristic of an obviously emotional, if not altogether impassioned, manner of representation.


Aposiopesis, a sudden intentional break in the narration or dialogue, is a figure of speech based upon the aesthetic principle of incomplete represen­tation. What is not finished is implied: the sense of the unexpressed is driven inside and the reader is expected to find it out for himself, the context of the situation being his guide. The authors who refrain from being too outspoken often resort to this device.

Take, for instance, K. Mansfield's story "The Voyage" where aposiopesis is prominent among other units of poetic speech. A little girl, Fenella, leaves her home for a stay at her grandmother's. The place is somewhere across the Straits, so Fenella and her grandmother go there aboard a ship ... Something untoward has precipitated the visit, something tragic has happened in Fenella's family. This is suggested by a whole series of details such as the sad preoccupation of the girl's father who came to see them off, the fact that he wouldn't look at the girl when she whispered anxiously "How long am! going to stay?"; the grandmother's words "God bless you, my own brave son!" and at last an aposiopesis: "T hope ' began the stewardess.

Then she turned round and looked a long mournful look at Grandma's blackness and at Fenella's black coat and skirt, black blouse, and hat with a crape rose." Fenella slips into her berth and finds it hard to turn down those stiff sheets: "You simply had to tear your way in." And again an aposiopesis: "If everything had been different, Fenella might have got the giggles ..."

An attentive reader perceives that these aposiopesis along with other hints suggest somebody's death: some-body has died and is not to be spoken of openly in the girl's presence. The surmise becomes a certainty when the stewardess says: "Poor little motherless mite."

Aposiopesis are numerous in the works of J. Galsworthy, E. Hemingway, G. Greene and others. The implications are rich and varied, e. g. "I'm sorry, Thomas. By the way, my name is Alden, if you care..." "'I'd rather stick to Pyle/1 said. *I think of you as Pyle.'" (G. Greene) or: "If you hadn't left your own people, your goddamned Old West berry, Saragota, Palm Beach people to take me on -(E.Hemingway)

The graphic indication of an aposiopesis is, as a rule, a dash or dots.


El1ipsisis an intentional omission from an utterance of one or more words, e. g. "If teenage baby-sitters typical, there's hope yet."1 "Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows." (E, Hemingway)

The difference between ellipsis and aposiopesis lies in the fact that whereas in the former the omitted words make the utterance- only grammatically incomplete the meaning of the omitted words being easy to surmise from the utterance itself (e. g. Been home? — instead of: Have you been home?; Hungry? — instead of: Are you hungry?) in the latter it is the context of the situation alone that helps surmise the meaning of the unuttered words, while grammatically an aposiopesis may or may not be complete, e. g. "If everything had been different, Fenella might have got the giggles ..." is a grammatically complete utterance; but: "By the way, my name is Alden, if you'd care ..." — a grammatically incomplete utterance.

To better illustrate the idea of the patterned nature of tropes and figures of speech, we have always proceeded from the principle (be it analogy, contrast, recurrence, or incomplete representation) that stands basic in the unit. But, as it follows from the definitions and illustrations given above, more than one principle manifests itself, as a rule, in each unit of poetic speech. Thus, in an antithesis it is not only the principle of contrast but that of recurrence as well: recurrent may be either syntactic elements (parallelism) or phonetic (alliteration) or both, e. g. "Some look'd perplex'd and others look'd profound." (G. Byron) "Youth is lovely, age is lonely." (H. W. Longfellow)

In a pun there may be present analogy as well as contrast: the analogy of sound and the contrast of meaning, e, g. "I am a mender of bad soles." (W. Shakespeare) [Soul]—

1) The moral part of man's nature; 2) the bottom of a book, shoe, slipper; or: "Is confidence based on a rate of exchange? We used to speak of sterling qualities. Have we got to talk now about a dollar love?" (G. Greene) Sterling: 1) English money; 2) genuine._____

This being the underlying factor in most of the units -f poetic speech, we do not use the term "mixed" each time we have such a unit. The term "mixed" should be used when a trope or a figure of speech involves other units of poetic speech which -happen to be its constituents. For instance, a case of pun may involve a metaphor (e. g. "I will speak daggers to her, but use none.") or an epithet (e. g. "Her nose was sharp, but not so sharp as her voice or the suspiciousness with which she faced Martin."); a paradox may involve an antithesis (e. g. "Wine costs money, blood costs nothing.") or a repetition + antithesis (e. g. "I always find out that one's most glaring fault is one's most important, virtue."), etc. It is always essential to see the unit that stands as the main (a macro-unit) in relation to its constituent parts (micro-units).

The tropes and the greater part of the figures of speech we have considered above are the more prominent units of poetic speech. Each of them carries enormous expressive potentiality which alone accounts for the extensive use these units have in literary texts.

^ Recognition and fame From "Martin Eden" by Jack London

Ruth was a girl of the upper middle class coming to see Martin Eden who has become a well-known writer. Martin Eden was in love with Ruth when he was a poor struggling young author. Now he shows no emotion as his feeling for her is dead.

"Oh, Martin don't be cruel" - cried Ruth, - "you have not kissed me once. "You are as cold as a stone and think what I have dared to do. Just think of where I am?"

"Why didn't you dare it before?" - he asked. - 'When I was starving, when I was just I am now as a man, as an artist, the same Martin Eden? That's the question I've been putting to myself for many a day not concerning you only but concerning everybody. You see I have not changed, my brain is the same old brain. I am personally of the same value that I was when nobody wanted me. And what is puzzling me is why they want me now. Surely, they don't want me for myself, for myself is the same old self they did not want. Then they must want me for something else, for something that is outside of me, for something that is not I. Shall I tell you what that something is ? It is for the recognition I have received. That recognition is not I. it resides in the minds of others. Then again for the money I have earned and am earning. But that money is not I. It resides in banks and the pockets of Tom, Dick and Harry. And it is for that, for the recognition and the money , that you now want me '

You are breaking my heart" she sobbed. You know I love you, that I am here because I love you".

I am afraid you don't see my point" he said gently. "What I mean is- if you love me, how does it happen that you love me now so much more than you did when your love was weak enough to deny me?" "Forget and forgive" she cried passionately. "Martin Eden with his work all performed you would not marry" he went on. "But your love is now strong enough and I cannot avoid the conclusion that its strength arises from the publication and the public notice".

They sat in silence for a long time, she thinking desperately, and he pondering upon his love which had gone. He knew now that he had not really loved her. It was an idealized Ruth he had loved, an ethereal creature of his own creating. The real bourgeois Ruth he had never loved.







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