I sometimes marvel at our human desire to identify and name things. Just like how there is a day of the year honoring every interest imaginable — think National Spaghetti Day — there are words for various forms and patterns of writing. Usually very fancy, hard-to-spell, difficult-to-pronounce words, because, well, they can be.

Today, we’ll look at some of those unusual words and the much easier-to-understand examples they label. Don’t worry, there’s not going to be a quiz — as long as you promise not to make me pronounce them. Deal?

First up is “epistrophe,” or the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a sentence. Like when Abraham Lincoln spoke about “. . . government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

“Antonomasia” is a term for a descriptive phrase that replaces a person’s name. For example, Winston Churchill’s leadership during another great struggle earned him the title of “The Great Communicator” as he steeled the resolve of his countrymen by telling them exactly what they could expect during their country’s many dark days to come.

Churchill used many of the terms we’re talking about today. To rally his people, he employed “anaphora,” or the deliberate repetition of the first part of a sentence, when he told them: “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.”

When he said, “Let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil — each to our part, each to our station,” he was employing “isocolon,” or the use of similar or parallel structure in his phrases.

“What is our aim?” asked Churchill, “I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory in spite of all the terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.” By raising a question and then answering it, he was using “hypophora” to emphasize the fact that victory, no matter the price, will always be worth the struggle.

To further drive home his point, Churchill used “epizeuxis,” the repetition of a word or phrase, usually within the same sentence, when he implored everyone, “Never give in, never, never, never, never.”

More recently, President John F. Kennedy employed “antistrophe,” the repetition of words at the ends of successive clauses or sentences, when he stated, “For no government is better than the men who compose it, and I want the best, and we need the best, and we deserve the best.”

And when we don’t have the best? Well that might just drive a person to resort to “symploce,” which is using a word or phrase successively at the beginnings of two or more clauses or sentences, and another word or phrase successively at their ends. In other words, it’s a combination of anaphora and epistrophe mentioned above. (Remember, there’s not going to be a quiz.) An example by G.K. Chesterton will certainly help here: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason, the madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

The last word this week goes to Yoda, who makes use of “anadiplosis,” the repetition of the last word of a clause or sentence, as the first word of the next clause or sentence. “Fear,” he reminds us, “leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to war.”

Well said, no matter what you call it.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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