Writers of every kind know that writing is an imperfect process. Sometimes it happens effortlessly, and other times you find yourself stumped with writer’s block before you’ve even started. As a poet and a content marketer, I can say from experience that many of the obstacles I’ve encountered as a creative writer have also cropped up in my professional writing, and some of my favorite solutions come from the time I spent studying creative writing in graduate school. Whether you’ve fallen into a slump with your writing or you just want to add a few new tools to your arsenal, I’ve compiled a list of 3 figures of speech to revitalize your writing.
1. Anastrophe and Hyperbaton
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, anastrophe is the “inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect.” In this definition, anastrophe and hyperbaton are often considered synonymous. My favorite resource for rhetorical figures, Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase by Arthur Quinn, claims that anastrophe is used specifically to switch the order of an adjective and noun, while other variations to the usual order of words fall under the broader category of hyperbaton. Whether you stick to this stricter definition or use the two terms interchangeably, altering the expected order of your words is an excellent way to draw readers’ attention to them.
Shakespeare employs anastrophe to great effect in As You Like It: “The retort courteous,” “the quip modest,” “the reply churlish,” “the reproof valiant,” “the countercheck quarrelsome,” “the lie circumstantial,” and “the lie direct” (5.4.75), for example. “Cheese I love,” an example of hyperbaton from the Collins English Dictionary, illustrates how this technique might be used to create something short and simple that still captures readers’ attention, perfect for a brand tagline or slogan.
Quinn defines the isocolon as a rhetorical device that “repeats the same grammatical forms in different words.” When used in moderation, its effects are subtle, emphasizing the relationship between each of the parallel elements.
One widespread example is the proverb, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Within the field of advertising, a common isocolon is the “buy one, get one” sale. In both cases, their symmetry calls attention to the relationships between the elements. You can also employ isocolon with more than two parallel elements, as seen in the famous Latin phrase, Veni, vidi, vici, or, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” These instances of isocolon can underscore the chronology of events or an intensifying or diminishing effect between the elements.
A zeugma, Quinn explains, was the impetus for Figures of Speech. As the figure of speech that begins and ends my favored reference book, the zeugma has always stuck out to me as well. The zeugma is sometimes defined as “the relative ellipsis of a verb,” as Quinn defines it in his book. Others, however, consider only “zeugmas [that] are parallel in form but contrastive in meaning” to be true zeugmas.
An example from Romeo and Juliet of the more general definition of a zeugma is, “But passion lends them power, time means, to meet” (2. Prol. 13). Here, the verb “lends” is omitted from “time means,” which would otherwise read, “time lends means.” Another Shakespearean example comes from Rape of Lucrece: “How Tarquin wronged me, I Collatine” (819). In these instances, I find that the zeugma highlights similarities.
In the latter definition of a zeugma, the verb that is omitted must have multiple meanings. One meaning is used when the verb first appears, and another meaning is used where the verb is omitted. An example from popular culture appears in Star Trek: The Next Generation when Riker says, “You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit.” Here, Riker initially uses the word “execute” to mean “carry out,” but when he omits “execute” after, he is using another definition of the word—“murder.” In these cases, a zeugma can create deeper meaning or emotional impact.
With these or any other figures of speech, you can pen creative, impactful writing that keeps you and your readers interested. To learn more, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Figures of Speech. If you are interested in our copywriting or content marketing services, contact Online Optimism today.