September 24, 2020
Aphorisms, diacope, polyptotons, litotes, and epistrophes. These are just some in a long list of rhetorical devices that we use (sometimes without even knowing it) to bring our thoughts to life and make our arguments more persuasive.
They’re important to know, we’re sure you’ll agree, especially since it’s our job to convince, compel, persuade, engage, inspire, influence, and entice.
So with that in mind, let’s take a moment to put a name to the figures of speech we use, or would like to use, if only to sound smarter at dinner parties.
Metaphors help us understand something complex by comparing it to something simpler and more familiar. For example, “Life is a rollercoaster.”
However, when Forrest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” that is an example of a simile because it directly compares two things. And it can also be an example of an analogy, because the comparison is used to make a point: “…you never know what you’re gonna get.” Similes and analogies are types of metaphors.
Hyperbole is used to make blatant exaggerations. For example, “Waiting for the plane to take off took forever.” Or you can try a litote, which is a massive understatement: “The flight didn’t take long, England is across the pond.”
Irony is the act of saying one thing and meaning something different, usually the opposite, like when you call a big guy “Tiny”. But be careful not to confuse irony with sarcasm. Irony is to say, “Nice weather we’re having!” when it’s raining. It’s used to point out something absurd. Saying, “Yeah, he’s GREAT as his job” when you mean the opposite is sarcasm, which is used to wound or mock. Sarcasm is more a tone of voice than a rhetorical device.
Let’s move on to rhetorical devices that are catchy and pleasing to the ear – making them more memorable.
An aphorism is a pithy observation that contains a general truth, like “Actions speak louder than words” or “Work to live, don’t live to work” (something we should all take to heart).
Alliteration is the repetition of a sound, usually a consonant at the beginning of a word, like “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.”
Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound, like “Wear and tear” or “Fun in the sun.”
“Walk the walk, and talk the talk” uses assonance and alliteration, but is also a good example of a polyptoton, where the same word is repeated, each time with a different meaning.
Diacope is when a whole phrase is repeated, like “To be, or not to be!”. Which is also a type of parallelism, not unlike “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And since Shakespeare and Lincoln repeated the same words at the end of each of their phrases, one could also say these are also good examples of epistrophes.
And we could go on and on, but for now, these are just a few of the rhetorical devices you can start using with purpose to communicate with clients, colleagues and customers (which is an alliteration).