Writers Need Posh Figures Of Speech

What would writers be without a variety of terms no one else knows?

What without the deliberate use of rhetorical figures? They make us unbearable but enigmatic. With those Greek origins, intellectual flair, and unpronounceable names: we need them.

This is why I drew a list of the snootiest and oddest rhetorical figures for you.


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I'll jump right in without further formalities. Here are my Top12.

1) Paraprosdokian

“If I am reading this graph correctly—I'd be very surprised.”

— Stephen Colbert

“Paraprosdokian” seems very much like the name of a drug. Still, it’s a figure of speech in which the second part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the first part.

It usually produces a humorous or dramatic effect, and for this reason, comedians and satirists love it.

“I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night.”

— Bill Hicks

2) Antiphrasis

It’s a sentence or phrase that means the opposite of what it appears to say. We can consider it as a subset of the much more common — and beloved! — rhetorical device that is irony. We use antiphrasis every day:

[Extra: a rhetorical device is not the same as a figure of speech (although there is much overlap). The former is a technique adopted to convey meaning and persuade thanks to language designed to encourage or provoke an emotional display of a given perspective or action. A figure of speech is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language — used to produce a rhetorical effect. Technically, some elements in this list are rhetorical devices, but not figures of speech.]

3) Bdelygmia

A wonderful and difficult-to-pronounce rhetorical insult. The rule here is simple: the uglier and more extravagant, the better.

For example, here’s how Leonard Pitts (Miami Herald columnist) expressed his disappointment at the ostentatious lifestyle of modern politicians:

“I do know a con when I see one. And in politics, I see them all the time. We are courted by blow-dried, focus-grouped, stage-managed, photo-opped, sloganeering, false-smiling, hand-clasping, back-slapping would-be leaders who say they feel our pain and understand our concerns and maybe sometimes they do, but all too often, it seems they feel little and understand less. Superficiality gleams in their perfect teeth and scripted lines. They work hard to make style look just like substance.”

— Source

4) Litotes

It’s an understatement in which the negative of the contrary expresses an affirmative.

It’s simple:

“She’s not a bad writer!”

— People who think you’re bad but don’t want to insult you explicitly

5) Anthimeria

Anthimeria is transforming a word of a certain “word class” to another one: using a noun as a verb, for example.

When you hear someone saying,

“She zoomed me, but I wasn't home.”

…this someone is not only intolerable for the choice of words, but also an anthimeria juggler.

6) Aporia

Faked or sincere puzzled questioning (sincere?).

“You got fired? They say you weren't good enough? Really?”

— False friends

7) Accumulation

It happens when you accumulate arguments in a concise and forceful manner.

“Your organization, your vigilance, your devotion to duty, your zeal for the cause must be raised to the highest intensity.”

— Winston Churchill

Accumulation is a classic, and we all use it. Think of the last fight you had: how many arguments did you accumulate in your sentences?

8) Hendiatris

A figure of speech used for emphasis, in which three words are used to express one idea.

“Tonight? Netflix, Chinese, and wine.”

— Normal people on Tuesdays

This sentence emphasises the single (and simple) idea/concept that we stay home on Tuesdays nights.

9) Paradiastole

The lovely reframing of vices as virtues (often performed with the use of euphemism).

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”

— Oscar Wilde

Procrastination is my virtue.

10) Distinctio

Distinctio occurs when you define or specify the meaning of a word/phrase you use.

I don’t even need to give you an example here. You got the idea, and you know how annoying it can be. I love it.

11) Apophasis

Apophasis is a rhetorical device derived from my dear irony and consists of bringing up a subject by denying that it should be brought up.

A classic, though often denigrated, political tactic!

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would never call him 'short and fat'?”

— You can guess this one

12) Grandiloquence

My last present.

Grandiloquence is the use of lofty and extravagant language — pompous speeches intended to impress.

I saved it for last as an invitation to vanity: I hope the idea will seduce you.

That's all for this week.

“Curiosity is only vanity.

We usually only want to know something so that we can talk about it.”

― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

See you next Wednesday,

Lorenzo Di Brino