Last time we talked about two main types of sentences: loose (or running) and periodic. To catch up on that post, go here.
Today I’d like to share some fun types of sentences you can try that have Greek rhetorical devices with tongue twisting names and challenging elements.
When trying these out (when writing a sentence, period), things to consider are its length, it’s rhythm, its balance (if you have a sentence with clauses and phrases, are they balanced or not – equal length? Parallel form – meaning similarly constructed?), and its sound (correspondence of sound between words for example, repetition, alliteration. Pleasing to the ear? Dissonant?).
Warning: if using some of these devices as you write slows you down and clogs the flow of writing, wait until the revision process to see how some of these might be employed. And then, have fun and take risks.
You poets might recognize some of these. Extra points for you!
(Image Credit: Kirstyn Leuner for her Women's Studies class in rhetoric - great post for further reading there.)
"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,
Asyndeton – a series of clauses piled up without connectives.
"He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac." (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957)
Homeoteleuton – helps achieve a kind of rhythm through use of succession of like ending words. A form of amplification.
"My mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her
hands." (Launce in Act II, scene three of The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare)
Paralepsis- a strategy to emphasize a point by seeming to pass over it, resolving to avoid mentioning something while doing exactly that.
"The music, the service at the feast,
The noble gifts for the great and small,
The rich adornment of Theseus's palace . . .
All these things I do not mention now."
(Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," The Canterbury Tales)
Prenthesis/Digressio – an interruption of thought which heightens anticipation or scores a point arising from, but not directly relevant to, the subject in hand.
Also known as digression, going off topic to explain or expound.
"Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton, or Hamlet's father's ghost and what stays is dry bones." (Ray Bradbury)
Zeugma – (This is one of my favorites.) When a word modifies two or more words although its use may be grammatically or logically correct with only one.
"You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit." (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Syllepsis – (My other favorite!) One word, usually a verb, is understood differently in relation to the two or more other words it modifies.
One of my students gave me a great example I still use:
“She was pink with sweat and taffeta.”
In this case, the word that makes this device possible is pink, pink taffeta, and flushed skin. So there you have an example of it used with an adjective instead of a verb.
Paronamasia – Word play, punning.
"A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handyman with a sense of humus." (E.B. White,
"The Practical Farmer")
You can always count on E.B. White. If you haven’t read his essays, you are so missing out.
Just one more. I have pages of these and I wish I could share them all with you. I am a total geek about this stuff. I giggle happily to myself when I manage a syllepsis. It’s embarrassing.
Tricolon/Triad – a series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses.
"I require three things in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid." (Dorothy Parker)
"You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe." (The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
Kenning – Not Greek, Old English, but so fun. Something you must start using in your work from now on. It’s such rich territory and working with it will sharpen your skills with metaphor.
The word ‘kenning’ means ‘to know’. A kenning is a figurative expression, usually compound, used in place of a name or noun.
I give this assignment out to my students, to use this word, for both poetry and prose classes, and it’s amazing and inspiring to hear what they come up with. Try it. You’ll amaze and inspire yourself!
Examples: ‘whale-road’ for ‘sea’. ‘Sea-horse’ for ‘ship.’
See? Reading Beowulf paid off!
You are using something you never thought you would. Can’t do the same for algebra I’m afraid. Sorry.
Let’s move on to two sentences you can try: paraprosdokian and the American sentence.
The paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.
Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a syllepsis. We’ve discussed that above. The trick is not to force it. Don't look like you spent longer than two seconds creating it.
Here are some examples of funny paraprosdokian sentences (if they're not your style, write mean or dark or wry ones. Go for it. Make it your own).
(By the way, I have no idea where these came from. They were forwarded to me in an email so if I'm infringing on somebody's copyright, just let me know and I'll pull them.)
“Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you
“The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.”
“Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until
you hear them “speak.
“If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.”
The American Sentence will appeal to both poets and prose writers. It was created by the poet Allen Ginsberg, whose favorite piece of writing advice was, “Condense!”
He thought the Japanese form of Haiku didn’t quite fit when it came to writing in English in a 5/7/5 syllable lines. That breaking them into this pattern made it an exercise in counting, not feeling.
And too arbitrary. His solution, which first appeared in his book Cosmopolitan Greetings, is the American Sentence. One sentence, 17 syllables. That's it.
Here are some of Ginsberg's American Sentences:
Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella. 1987
Rainy night on Union square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I'm dead. August 8, 1990, 3:30A.M.
The more you practice at the cellular level of writing – words and sentences and the devices
that make them sing – the better a writer you’ll be. Eventually, you’ll employ devices like these without even knowing you’re doing it.
So when you’re reading your drafts afterward, you have every right to be suitably impressed.
You'll also be more beautiful, smarter, make more money, and lose ten pounds.
If you give these a try – any of the devices in this post – paste them into the comments.
I’d love to see them.