In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, we are at war. We are at war with emojis. We are at war with LOLs. We are at war with hashtags. We are losing the ability express ourselves and to persuade others. We have lost the power of rhetoric.
Rhetoric can be loosely defined as the art of persuasion. A miniscule part of this vast art are rhetorical figures – techniques to make a single phrase striking, just by altering the words. Not by saying something different, but by saying something a different way.
My fellow grammarians, today I arm you with three rhetorical figures to use in our fight. Use these wisely. They are powerful, persuasive practises provided to prevent paucity in prose. Today I bestow upon you the weapons of chiasmus, of congeries and of anadiplosis. Again, your tools are chiasmus, congeries and anadiplosis.
Chiasmus refers to symmetry in a sentence. Humans, for whatever reason, love symmetry – why else would we build structures like the Taj Mahal and St. Pauls Cathedral? This affinity carries directly over into language. In fact, symmetry of sentence can land you in that other famous symmetrical building – The White House.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” harks JFK.
Hillary Clinton in her last attempt at the oval office – In the end, the true test is not the speeches the president delivers, it’s whether the president delivers on the speeches.
Chiasmus is flexible. It may also take the form of noun, adjective mirrored by adjective, noun. I see trees of green, red roses too. Our sentence goes plant, colour: colour plant. And I think to myself what a wonderful world, where I have been singing these lyrics my entire life and been completely oblivious to the subtle beauty of chiasmus.
Congeries, latin for heap, refers to the expression of adjectives or nouns as a list. Shakespeare, a man who could turn a phrase or two, enjoyed congeries, especially for insults. As Falstaff gives King Henry IV a piece of his mind, he could simply have called him an elf-skin and left it at that. Or a dried neat’s tongue. Instead he let’s fly with the following tirade:
“You starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! You tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase, you vile standing tuck…”
I have no idea what that means but I know that it’s deeply offensive.
We don’t usually talk in lists. This is why congeries startles and gets attention.
Our final armament, comrades, is anadiplosis. This is where the last word of a sentence is repeated as the first word of the next. As the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order, Master Yoda proclaims:
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hatred.
Hatred leads to suffering.
It is the progression that is most satisfying. It gives the illusion of logic and flow.
Malcolm X, in his The Ballot of the Bullet Speech declares:
Once you change your philosophy, you change your thought pattern. Once you change your thought pattern, you change your attitude. Once you change your attitude, it changes your behaviour patterns and then you go on into some action.
May your philosophies concerning rhetoric be henceforth changed, and, via the same cascade outlined by Malcolm X, inspire you into action in the good fight against generation abbreviation.
As you go forth into the field of battle, armed with chiasmus, congeries and anadiplosis, use these powers wisely. Bequeath the elements of eloquence unto our foes.
When fighting with chiasmus, I implore you to be all for one and one for all.
When fighting with congeries, I ask you to be brave, courageous, plucky, audacious, gutsy, fearless, daring and heroic.
When fighting with anadiplosis, source your valour from the general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.
Chiasmus, congeries and anadiplosis. May the art of rhetoric serve you well.