A – E


Alliteration is the repetition of a sound at the start of words that are close to each other. It is often used in poetry. The repetition of an initial consonant sound. Examples:

A peck of pickled peppers.

He clasped the crag with crooked hands

Close to the sun in lonely lands (Tennyson)

‘Good men are gruff and grumpy, cranky, crabbed, and cross.’ (Clement Freud)


Anaphora is a rhetorical term for the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Examples:

  • ‘I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.’ (Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, 1940).
  • ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.’ (Rick Blaine in Casablanca)
  • ‘I have a dream…’ (was said eight times during Martin Luther King’s famous speech).

An antimetabole is the repetition of words or an idea in a reverse order. Example:

  • ‘To fail to plan is to plan to fail.’

Antithesis is the balancing of one phrase, word or idea against another. Thus:

  • ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’ (Alexander Pope)
  • ‘They speak like saints and act like devils.’
  • ‘More haste less speed.’
  • ‘You’re easy on the eyes; hard on the heart.’ (Terri Clark)
  • ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at St. Louis, 1964)
  • And let my liver rather heat with wine, than my heart cool with mortifying groans. (Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare)

Assonance is the repetition of identical or similar vowel sound in neighbouring words. The consonants are not repeated: Examples:

  • ‘The time is always ripe to do what is right.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
  • ‘It beats . . . as it sweeps . . . as it cleans!’ (advertising slogan for Hoover vacuum cleaners, 1950s)

Bathos is the anti-climax. That is, the opposite of climax, and is often unintentional.

For example in: ‘I intend to be a great author. I am going to write novels, essays, short stories and letters to the newspaper’, there is nothing great in writing letters to the newspaper so the climax collapses.


In rhetoric, chiasmus is a type of antithesis, a verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first half, but with the parts reversed. Essentially it is the same as an antimetabole. Examples:

  • ‘Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.’ (Samuel Johnson)
  • ‘The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.’ (Peter De Vries)

A climax is the arrangement of ideas in ascending order of importance, leaving the most important (the climax) to the last:

  • ‘At the local level, the homeless are a nuisance, at the state level they are a budget item, but at the national level they are a reflection of our inhumanity.’

Consonance is the repetition of the final consonant sounds in words. Examples:

  • ‘Pitter, patter.’
  • ‘The black sack is in the back.’

Dysphemism is the substitution of a more offensive or disparaging word or phrase for one considered less offensive. It is the opposite of a euphemism. For example, calling a cemetery a ‘boneyard.’

When applied to people, animal names are usually dysphemisms: coot, old bat, pig, chicken, snake, and bitch, for example.


Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated after intervening text. Example:

  • ‘The king is dead, long live the king!’

Epistrophe is a repetition of words at the end of various sentences. For example:

  • ‘Where affections bear rule, their reason is subdued, honesty is subdued, good will is subdued, and all things else that withstand evil, for ever are subdued.’ (Thomas Wilson)

Epithet (noun) – adjective expressing quality or attribute significant appellation (Gk epitheton)

An epithet is an adjective or adjectival phrase qualifying a noun by naming an important characteristic of it, as in: Sneering contempt; Untroubled sleep; Peaceful dawn; Life-giving water.

A transferred epithet is an adjective that is transferred from the word that it would normally qualify to another word that is closely associated with it. For example:

  • ‘I lay all night on a sleepless pillow.’ (instead of I had a sleepless night)

A euphemism is the substitution of an inoffensive expression (such as “passed away”) for one considered offensively explicit (“died”) as in:

  • He passed away yesterday.
  • He has been called to higher service.

In other words, using a polite, less offensive word or phrase to avoid saying something unpleasant. It is often used in dealing with taboo or sensitive subjects: death, sex, crime, or illness. It is therefore the language of evasion, hypocrisy, prudery, and deceit. Examples:

Pre-owned for “used or second-hand”; enhanced interrogation for “torture”; industrial action for “strike”; misspoke for “lied”; tactical withdrawal for “retreat”; revenue augmentation for “raising taxes”; wind for “belch” or “fart”; convenience fee for “surcharge”; courtesy reminder for “bill”; unlawful combatant for “prisoner of war”.

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By Nigel Benetton, science fiction author of Red Moon Burning and The Wild Sands of Rotar

Last updated: Friday, 24th April 2020