Figures of Word Choice

Jeanne Fahnestock

in Rhetorical Style

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764129
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918928 | DOI:
Figures of Word Choice

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While the tropes involve word substitutions hinging on meaning, other figures of speech from the rhetorical tradition cover devices of wordplay that can have surprising argumentative consequences. These devices can be separated roughly into three categories. The first group, schemes of words, includes agnominatio, the pairing of visually and aurally similar words, as in Malcolm X's alternatives of the ballot versus the bullet. Arguers achieve effects similar to the agnominatio when they alter a single word from its typically recognized form (metaplasm). The most important devices among the schemes of words are polyptoton (using derivatives with the same root, e.g., just and justice) and ploce (repeating precisely the same word). These devices spread a concept functionally and give it presence. They in turn are tweaked by puns (antanaclasis). The second group of devices relates words primarily by sound over meaning, resulting in aural patterns that can also have argumentative consequences. Assonance, consonance, and alliteration, often cited in studies of poetry, can support an arguer's creation of inseparable groups. The early rhetorical manuals also emphasized phrase-ending sound similarities (homeoeptoton, homeoeteleuton). The third set of devices has the common attribute of drawing attention to word selection itself. Arguers can string synonyms together in place of a single term (synonymia), displaying alternative versions of a concept. They can also deliberately make a mistake and then correct themselves, thereby lodging two expressions with the audience. They may also use euphemisms or deliberately cloaked words (oddly labeled emphasis in the manuals) to plant the unsayable in the audience's mind. All these devices exploit the brain's sorting routines based on visual, aural, and semantic distinctions among word forms and concepts.

Keywords: wordplay; agnominatio; metaplasm; polyptoton; ploche; pun; antanaclasis; alliteration; synonyms; euphemism

Chapter.  8734 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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