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Dobbs & Murphy
Rhetorical and Stylistic Devices
Assignment: Memorize, make flash cards & find 1 example for each
Test first week of class.
Ad hominem: Latin for “against the man.” An argument that appeals to emotion rather
than reason, feeling rather than intellect.
Allegory: a story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind
its literal or visible meaning.
Alliteration: The repetition of the same sounds – usually initial consonants of words.
Assonance: The repetition o identical or similar vowel sounds in the syllables of
neighboring words.
Consonance: The repetition of identical or similar consonants in neighboring
words whose vowel sounds are usually different.
Allusion: An indirect or passing reference to some event, person, place, or artistic work,
the nature and relevance of which is not explained by the writer but relies on the reader’s
familiarity with what is thus mentioned.
Ambiguity: Multiple meanings either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase,
sentence, or passage.
Analogy: Illustration of an idea by means of a more familiar idea that is similar or
parallel to it in some significant features.
Anaphora: A rhetorical figure of repetition in which the same word or phrase is repeated
in (and usually at the beginning of) successive lines, clauses, or sentences.
Epistrophe: A rhetorical figure by which the same word or phrase is repeated at
the end of successive sentences.
Antecedent: The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun.
Anti-hero: A central character in a dramatic or narrative work who lacks the qualities of
nobility and magnanimity expected of traditional heroes and heroines in romances and
Aphorism: A statement of some general principle, expressed memorably by condensing
much wisdom into few words.
Apology: In the literary sense, a justification or defense of the writer’s opinions or
conduct, not usually implying any admission of blame (as in the everyday use).
Apostrophe: A rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses a dead or absent person,
or an abstraction or inanimate object.
Asyndeton: A form of verbal compression which consists of the omission of connecting
words between clauses. The most common form is the omission of “and,” leaving on a
sequence linked by commas.
Colloquialism: The use of informal expressions appropriate to everyday speech rather
than to the formality of writing.
Comic Relief: The interruption of a serious work by humor.
Connotation: The range of further associations that a word or phrase suggests in addition
to its straightforward dictionary meaning.
Denotation: The explicit or direct meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression, as
distinguished from the ideas or meanings associated with it or suggested by it.
Diction: The choice of words used in a written work.
Didactic: A term used to describe fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or
moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking.
Hyperbole: Extreme exaggeration.
Imagery: A rather vague critical term covering those uses of language in a work that
evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or “concrete”
objects. (symbols)
Irony: A subtly humorous perception of inconsistency.
Verbal: A discrepancy between what is said and what is really meant.
Situational: A discrepancy between what is thought to happen and what actually
Dramatic: When the audience knows more about a character’s situation that the
character does, foreseeing an outcome contrary to a character’s expectations.
Logic: An implied comparison resulting when one thing is directly called another. To be
logically acceptable, support must be appropriate to the claim, believable and consistent.
Metaphor: A comparison between two unlike things without using the words “like” or
Metonymy: A figure of speech that replaces the name of one thing with the name of
something else closely associated with it.
Narrative: The telling of a story or an account of an event or series of events.
Onomatopoeia: The use of words that seem to imitate the sounds they refer to.
Oxymoron: A figure of speech wherein the author groups apparently contradictory terms
to suggest a paradox – jumbo shrimp, cruel kindness.
Parallelism: Refers to the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases,
sentences, paragraphs in order to give structural similarity. A famous example begins A
Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of
wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”
Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement which is actually true. This rhetorical
device is often used for emphasis or simply to attract attention.
Parody: A work that closely imitates the style or content of another with the specific aim
of comic effect and/or ridicule.
Pedantic: An adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly
scholarly, academic, or bookish.
Personification: A figure of speech by which inanimate objects are given humanlike
Point of View: The perspective from which a story is told.
Polysyndeton: A rhetorical device for the repeated use of conjunctions to link a
succession of words, clauses, or sentences.
*Often found in stream of consciousness.
Predicate Adjective: An adjective, group of adjectives, or adjective clause that follows a
linking verb.
Predicate Nominative: A noun, group of nouns, or noun clause that renames the subject.
Pun/Double Entendre: In rhetoric, dealing with one word that suggests two different
meaning. Often is used for humor.
Rhetoric: The deliberate exploitation of eloquence for the most persuasive effect in public
speaking or in writing.
Rhetorical Question: A question asked for the sake of persuasive effect rather than a
genuine request for information.
Satire: A mode of writing that exposes the failings of individuals, institutions, or societies
to ridicule and scorn.
Simile: A comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as.”
Subordinate Clause: This word group contains both a subject and a verb plus
accompanying phrases or modifiers.
Subject complement: The word or clause that follows a linking verb and completes the
subject of the sentence by renaming or describing it.
Syllogism: A form of logical argument that derives a conclusion from two propositions,
sharing a common term. Usually in this form: all x are y; z is x; therefore z is y.
Symbol: Anything that stands for or represents something else beyond it, usually an idea
conventionally associated with it.
 Natural Symbol: Objects and occurrences from nature to represent ideas
commonly associated with them.
 Conventional Symbol: Something that has been invested with meaning by a
group (religious symbols, such as a cross or a Star of David; national symbols,
such as a flag or an eagle).
Syntax: The way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences.
Theme: The central idea of a work, revealed and developed in the course of a story or
explored through argument.
Tone: A writer’s attitude toward his or her subject matter revealed through diction,
figurative language, and organization on the sentence and global levels.
Wit: In modern usage, intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights.
Understatement: The ironic minimizing of fact. The effect can be frequently humorous
and emphatic.
 Litotes: A figure of speech by which an affirmation is made indirectly by denying
its opposite, usually with an effect of understatement.
Ex: “I’m not averse to a drink.”
 Meiosis: The Greek term for understatement or belittling; a rhetorical figure by
which something that is very impressive, is represented with simplicity; i.e. When
Mercutio calls his mortal wound a “scratch.”
Zeugma: One words, usually a noun or the main verb, which governs two other words
not related in meaning – he maintained a business and his innocence.