R – T

Rhetorical question

The rhetorical question is a question asked for effect, rather than to expect an answer:

  • “How can I express my thanks to you?”

Sarcasm is a nasty form of irony where something said means exactly what it says. A sarcastic remark is sharp, bitter and sneering. Thus:

  • When a student fails an exam, the teacher hands back the paper, saying, “Well done!”
  • When a waiter spills a man’s coffee in his lap, the man says, “Thank you very much!”

Also, consider:

  • “Anyone can buy one. They cost £3 000.”
  • “Congratulations, you’ve just lost us the match.”

A simile is the comparison of two things, usually indicated by “like” or “as”. For example:

  • “We were packed in the room like sardines.”
  • “He was as quick as a wink with his reply.” (He replied so quickly that it was compared with the speed that a person blinks).
  • “She glared at him like some eagle observing its prey.” (comparing the stare to that of an eagle looking at its future meal).

Syllepsis (also termed “zeugma”) is the use of a word to refer to two or more words, especially in different senses. Examples:

  • “He caught a fish and a cold.”
  • “She lost her ring and her temper.”

And where one word (usually a verb) is understood differently in relation to two or more other words in the same sentence. For example:

  • “When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.” (B. White, ‘Dog Training’).
  • “Vegetarianism is harmless enough, though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness.” (Robert Hutchinson, address to the British Medical Association, 1930).
  • “Piano, n. A parlour utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.” (Ambrose Bierce, A Devil’s Dictionary).
  • “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality.” (Margaret Atwood, “Ten Rules for Writers.” The Guardian, February 19th 2010).

A symploce is where a word or phrase is used successively at the beginning of two or more sentences. For example:

  • “When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.” (Bill Clinton)

A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the part of an object stands for the whole, and vice versa. It is a type of metonymy where a part of the whole stands for all of it, or the whole stands for part of it. Examples:

  • Head count (to refer to the count of people).
  • The police (to refer to a policeman).
  • Brass (for high-ranking military officers).
  • Hard hats (for construction workers).
  • Three sail on the horizon (for ships).


  • Give us this day our daily bread. (bread meaning food – a part for the whole)
  • Australia beat South Africa at cricket. (the whole for a part)

An unnecessary repetition of a word or meaning: “fatal murder”; saying the same thing twice when you don’t need to and is especially unintentional.

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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