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Figures of Speech

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Figure of Speech Dictionary

A figure of speech or a trope (the latter word has a more specific use) is a non-ordinary use of language employed to create an emphasis, amplify a meaning, draw a comparison or contrast, or to make a rhetorical point. The figure may be achieved by employing repetition of words or sounds in a specific pattern, making an interjection, stating or implying a comparison, using synonyms, or using a specific pattern of argument. This searchable dictionary collects some of the common forms (about half of all figures). Use the Contact Page to advise of corrections, additional examples or forms we have missed.

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dglofaq script Version 1.0 Copyright 2004 by Rick Sutcliffe and Arjay Enterprises

Results for Rhetoric:

Ad Hominem

Literally "toward, the man". Refers to a negative or scurrilous remark (often name calling) attacking the person of one's opponent rather than arguing the substance of the matter at hand.

Secondary Category: negative

e.g. You believe that (voted for.. etc.) You're an idiot, a fool.

Notes: The speaker cuts off real debate by calling the other person names. The more negative and perjorative the name calling, the less likely debate can resume. The most effective names are ethnic or political slurs. Calling a conservative a Nazi or a socialist a communist is typical. Once the opponent has been silenced, the name-caller need no longer hear the opinions of others, can even imagine the argument has been won.


The expansion upon an idea in greater detail or depth.

e.g. So much for the definition. Now let me explain in detail.

Anabasis or Gradual Ascent

An increase of emphasis on some meaning in successive sentences.

e.g. Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1)


An inversion of the natural order of words.

e.g. Long hours worked the men. instead of The men worked long hours.

Notes: Changes in word order like this cause subtle shifts in emphasis.


A concise statement or popular saying that expresses a principle or truth in a terse manner. Usually shorter than a proverb, and may have an element of the trite.

e.g. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


The speaker expresses doubt about his or her position or asks rhetorically how to proceed.

e.g. How shall I put this?


A form of ellipsis, in which the speaker breaks off suddenly in the middle of speaking, giving the impression of being unwilling or unable to continue, perhaps portraying being overcome with emotion.

e.g. This outrage is beyond all...


A self-evident truth, generally accepted idea, or undefined term upon which other knowledge rests, or is built up.

Secondary Category: logic

e.g. Two points determine a line.


A lessening of one thing, person, or idea in order to magnify a competing one.

e.g. His clothes were so yesterday.

Notes: This is closely related to and somewhat a combination of ad hominem and meiosis.

Catabasis or Gradual Descent

An decrease of emphasis on some meaning in successive sentences.

e.g. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

Notes: May be Used to emphasize humiliation, sorrow. The opposite of anabasis."


Words omitted from a sentence or phrase that would be necessary to complete the formal grammar (syntax) but are not needed for the meaning (semantics).

e.g. 1, 2, 3, ... 10

Notes: Indicated in written material with three dots.


A dark or obscure saying or puzzling statement or an obscure mystery not yet explained. It may be expressed of persons and events as well as of things.

Secondary Category: riddle

e.g. The riddle of the sphinx: What walks first on four legs, then on two, and later on three?

Notes: Once the riddle has been solved, it is, of course, no longer an enigma."


A syllogism with part of the argument assumed rather than stated.

e.g. Socrates is mortal because he is human. (The major premise is implicit, not stated.)

Erotesis or Rhetorical question(s)

The asking of (perhaps multiple) questions without awaiting an answer.

Secondary Category: answer

e.g. If you prick us, do we not bleed? --Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

Notes: The meaning must be gleaned by putting the question into a statement. The question always has an obvious answer.

Hyperbaton or Transposition

The deliberate or accidental placing of a word out of its usual order in a sentence or dramatic departure from standard syntax (word order) for poetic effect.

Secondary Category: Grammar

e.g. Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore." (E. A. Poe)

Notes: Often used with an adjective or pronoun, or by reversing noun and verb.


A deliberate usage of understatement to enhance the quality of what was said. One might emphasize the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite.

e.g. 1. One nuclear bomb could spoil your whole day. 2. The pastor was not ignorant of doctrine. 3. The winning book wasn't bad.

Meiosis or Diminution

Intentionally understating or belittling something or implying it is less in significance or size, than it really is.

e.g. 1. It's only a scratch. 2. He was a citizen of no mean city (Acts 21:39)

Metonymy or Denominatio

The the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity.

Secondary Category: rhetoric

e.g. 1. "In an early morning press conference, Number 10 Downing Street today saidÉ" 2. "The pen is mightier than the sword.


An expression or phrase (usually two words) that appears to be or is alleged to be self-contradictory.

e.g. 1. Hysterical rationalism 2. Military intelligence

URL: opundo's oxymoron page


An ending to a sentence or phrase that is unexpected given the prior construction. It can be used for levity or for dramatic effect.

e.g. It was a beautiful day in March when the building fell on me.

Paroemia or Proverb

A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true.

e.g. 1. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7) 2. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiates 12:12)

Notes: A proverb is formed by observation, experimentation, and knowledge sharing and must endure the test of time, but is not an absolute statement of truth, only an observation about what is usually, generally, or normally true. For instance Biblical proverbs should not be regarded as unconditional promises."

Periphrasis or Circumlocution

Defining or explaining a single word or concept with many words, can also have the sense of talking around the subject and avoiding coming to the point.

e.g. The woman whom I married thirty years ago and to whom I am still happily married. (instead of "my wife")

Notes: Any definition of a word (which is generally in terms of several other words) is periphrastic. Circumlocution is also at times evasive, an attempt to avoid answering a question."

Praeteritio or Paralipsis

Emphasis is achieved by stating that the speaker is passing something by.

e.g. 1. Not to mention... 2. I won't dignify that with a response. 3. Pay no attention to that fellow over there.


Raising an objection and immediately answering it; strengthening an argument by dealing with possible objections before the audience can raise counter-arguments.

e.g. You may think programming difficult to understand, but if you bear with me I will show you how to break the discipline into steps.


An extreme form of paralipsis

e.g. I will not mention my opponents numerous criminal convictions. It would be unseemly to bring them up again.


A three part logical argument consisting of a major premise or general rule followed by a minor premise or instance of the precondition in the rule, and then a conclusion based on applying the major premise to its instance.

e.g. Rule or major premise: All humans are mortal. Minor premise: Socrates is human. Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

Tapeinosis or Demeaning

An attempt to lessen the importance of a thing, person or idea. Also called a put-down, though with more negative, perhaps scornful overtones.

e.g. He was a pimple on the body of history.

Notes: Differs from meiosis in that the outcome is a person's humiliation.


A word, phrase, or portion thereof is inserted into another word.

e.g. 1. whatsoever 2. nitwidiot

Like what you see? Want to exchange links? Want to contribute original or attributed material or add one of the many figures of speech we've not got around to yet? Contact Us. If we use your material, we'll acknowledge the source. Offended by something here? Tell us why. We'll ask for a second opinion from a neutral party and if that person agrees, the item will be removed. But hey, don't take yourself too seriously. The world needs some levity.


About's page
American Rhetoric in Sound
Brainy Encyclopedia's List (Also found elsewhere)
Earnest Speakers
Figures of Speech Exercises
Figures of Speech Quiz
Figures of Speech Tables
The Forest of Rhetoric
RinkWorks Fun With Words
Stephen Hecht's page
Important Grammatical & Linguistical Terms
Infoplease Glossary of Poetry Terms
List of Poetry Terms
Deborah Rudd's page
Brian Tung's page
UNCP Glossary of Literary Terms
Kip Wheeler's page
Grant William's page
Who is the brain (sic) behind opundo?

Biblical Figures of Speech
Basics of Biblical Interpretation
Biblical Idioms
Bullinger's Biblical Figures
Figures of Speech Introduction
Keys to the Word's Interpretation
A. E. Knoch's page
NT Figures of Speech
Truth or Tradition's List

Related Pages
Rhyme Zone
Writing Resource Links


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Updated 2005 12 28