SCHEMES & TROPES
Taken from John A. Campbell’s Speech Preparation, Modcom (1981)
Common Figures of Speech
SCHEMES: artful variation of usual work order.
Parallelism – using similar structure in phrases, words, or clauses that are paired or in a series.
As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honor him; but as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy
for his fortune; honor for his valor; and death for his ambition. (William
Shakespeare; Julius Caesar, Act III)
Antithesis – placing contrasts side by side, usually in parallel statements.
Give me liberty or give me death! (Patrick Henry)
Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of
heaven... (Thomas Paine; Common Sense)
...one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys
and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. (Martin Luther King; “I Have a
Asyndeton – piling up words and phrases without intervening conjunctions.
Every Thursday night you will be stimulated, motivated, excited, intrigued, exasperated,
educated, shocked, rocked, provoked, inspired, moved, amused, enlightened and
entertained. (ABC News 20/20)
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in
distresses... (St. Paul; II Corinthians 12:10)
Polysyndeton – using many conjunctions. (Replace every comma in asyndeton with “and” and
you will have polysyndeton.)
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and
creeping things, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and
over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis
Anaphora – repeating the same word at the beginning of a sequence of sentences or clauses.
Now is the time to make real the promises of Democracy. Now is the time to rise from
the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the
time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift out
nation from the quicksands of racial injustices to the solid rock of brotherhood.
(Martin Luther King; “I Have a Dream”)
I’m not a politician, not even a student of politics; in fact, I’m not a student of much of
anything. I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican, and I don’t even consider myself an
(Malcolm X; The Ballot or the Bullet)
Epistrophe – repeating the same word or group of words at the end of a sequence of sentences
or clauses. (Epistrophe is anaphora in reverse.)
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. (St.
Paul; I Corinthians 13:11)
I’m a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?
...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from
the earth. (Abraham Lincoln)
Antimetabole – repetition of words in reverse grammatical order in successive clauses.
Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. (John F.
Kennedy; Inaugural address)
I am stuck on Bandaids and Bandaid’s stuck on me.
Alliteration – repeating initial or middle consonants in two or more successive words.
The chefs and shepherds have shot themselves.
The dowagers dropped in their Dutch ovens... (W.H. Auden: The Age of Anxiety)
The cavity creeps are coming – help! Call Crest.
Polyptoton – repeating a word from the same root but in a different form.
On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but
you cannot be human. (G.K. Chesterton; Orthodoxy)
He may be friendly; but he’s not your friend. (Malcolm X; The Ballot or the Bullet)
TROPES: change from the usual and primary meaning of a word.
Metaphor – implied comparison between two unalike things.
I can no more remember the books I have read than the meals I have eaten, but they
have made me. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Millions of Americans are digging their graves with their own teeth. (Diet advertisement)
Simile – explicit comparison between two unalike things. (unlike metaphor, simile uses “like” or
Like a boxer rising groggily from a stunning roundhouse, a weakened administration got
back into the fight against inflation last week. (Time, June 19, 1979)
The knowledge gained at that time have ever since lain oddly around in a corner of his
mind like luggage left long ago in an emergency by some acquaintance and never
reclaimed. (W.H. Auden; The Age of Anxiety)
Metonymy – substituting one term for another that is closely related to it.
The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. (John Kennedy;
The pen is mightier than the sword. (Thomas Paine)
The White House had no comment on the incident.
Pun – a play on words. (Three types are presented here)
Ananaclassic – repetition of a word in two different sense.
If we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately. (Benjamin
Paranomasia – use of words alike in sound but different in meaning.
The bustle: A deceitful seatful (Vladimir Nabokov; Lolita)
Syllepsis – use of a word differently in relation to two or more other words that it modifies
The ink, like our pig, keeps running out of the pen.
Hyperbole – using exaggerated, even grotesque, terms to add emphasis or heighten effect.
It reminds me of a string of wet sponges, it reminds me of college yells, of stale bean
soup, of tattered washing on the line, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights, it
is so bad a certain grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish
and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is flap and doodle, it is rumble
and bumble, it is balder and dash. (H.L. Mencken; “On Harding’s Inaugural”)
Litotes – understating a point as a means of drawing attention to its significance.
Yes, it rains in Tacoma.
Gus meets Julia and leaps with her: “Nothing had changed except that night had passed
over the earth and day had come. Nothing had changed except my life.” (Geoffrey Wolff;
review of John Wain’s The Pardoner’s Tale)
Oxymoron – connecting two contradictory terms.
Expressions such as: heated coolness, awfully beautiful, terribly nice
Paradox – an apparently contradictory statement which yet has a ring of truth.
We step and do not step into the same rivers; we are and are not. (Heraclitus)
One’s breath is both hot (warm) and cold (cool).
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mathew