unattributed examples of several rhetorical terms 

Catachresis – “I shall speak daggers to her.”

Charientismus – “If you stay in Beverley Hills too long, you become a Mercedes.”

Chiasmus – “Anyone who thinks he has a solution does not comprehend the problem and anyone who comprehends the problem does not have a solution.” 

Apocope – “Oft in the stilly morn” 

Epenthesis – “Lie blist’ring fore the visitating sun”

Ellipsis – “And he to England shall along with you” 

Mezozeugma – “And now a bubble burst, and now a world.”

Metalepsis – “Virgil by ears of corn signifieth harvests, by harvests, summers, and by summers, years.”

Synecdoche – “All hands on deck!”

Taxis – “As the ox has his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man has his desires”

Erotema – “Do you hear this, O God?”

One of the most mysterious books in my library is A HANDLIST OF RHETORICAL TERMS, by Richard A. Lanham.  Mysterious it is, not only because I have no real training of or interest in rhetoric (other than having once dated a self-described rhetorician) but mysterious also because no one writing fiction, or instructing others how to, seems aware of this fabulous resource. Even if you or your characters are never in need of a persuasive and well-ordered argument, this book names and describes a richness of different writing figures I was otherwise unaware of (or at least unaware they had names.)

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s a lapse in my own education that makes this book feel like such a series of revelations.  I think it’s generally a lapse in liberal education that makes this book and its subject so inaccessible and underappreciated.

I admit I seldom if ever use this book for its intended purpose – it’s not like I’m sitting up at night classifying Cicero’s arguments. Most often I use it like a magic book – I hold a writing problem in my mind and then open the book randomly, seeing what shows up that might help. It works far better than I might reasonably expect. But also, over time, I’d like to believe I’ve absorbed some useful knowledge from it, even using it haphazardly.

I think there’s a useful parallel that can be drawn between writing and the various crafts (carving, potting, sculpting, etc.) The best way to arrive at a distinctive result is to start with novel tools.  

I don’t think every writer needs to own this book; but, if you’re looking for ways to enrich your writing or achieving a unique voice, you could do worse than pick up this underappreciated resource.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s