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Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are types of figurative language used by essay writers to evoke an emotional reaction in order to persuade the audience. 

Term Definition

Have you ever accumulated something before? Chances are you probably have. Accumulation simply means to make something bigger or 'to have more off'. This term is usually used to express having a gradual increase.

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Synonyms - accumulation

The adjunction contains information that may be highly relevant to the listener but is not linguistically necessary for the sentence to be understandable. For example, a man could say that he ate lunch in the park. The sentence "I ate lunch" would be able to stand alone, which means that the phrase "in the park" is an adjunction. Therefore, the adjunction always also makes a sentence more complex; it adds onto the simple base of the sentence in order to convey further information about questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how.

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Adnomination refers to the repetition of root words, where (for example) "some" is the root word shared by both "someone" and "somewhere". So, if a man were to wonder to there is someone, somewhere, who would have any interest in what he is talking about, this would be an adnomination. Adnomination could happen as a result of sloppy writing or speech; or, it could also be done on purpose in order to enhance the rhetorical effect of what is being said. Whether adnomination is aesthetically good or bad thus depends to a large extent on context. 

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An allegory is a poetic device through which a series of concrete images are connected in such a way that they elucidate a relatively more abstract set of philosophical, political, or aesthetic meanings. For example, Plato's Allegory of the Cave is not "about" literal prisoner chained inside a cave; it is about the nature of human perception and consciousness. The allegory is useful not only for expressing an idea in a clear and vivid way but also for evoking a visceral reaction from the listener.

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Alliteration primarily emerged as a concept within poetry, since poetry is the literary discipline that is most deeply concerned with the sounds of words. Alliteration happens when a person uses words that start with the same sounds in a repeated way. For example, a man could say that he saw a dark dog the other day: the words dark, dog, and day would form a sequence of alliteration. Alliteration is perhaps used by marketers today in order to catch the listener's attention. It is important, however, to not overdo it, or else alliteration has a tendency to just sound tacky. 

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In a literary context, an allusion is usually a passage in a work of art that makes reference to another work of art or some object within popular culture. The allusion is meant to evoke a specific reaction the audience. For example, the composer Mahler was known for using a relatively "lowbrow" allusion here and there in his symphonies as a means of destabilizing the difference between high culture and low culture.

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Synonyms - allusion

Ambiguity occurs when the structure and/or content of a statement makes its meaning unclear, leaving it open to multiple possible interpretations. Ambiguity could occur either because a person is a poor communicator and does not actually know how to speak or write in a direct way; or, ambiguity could be done on purpose as a means of having a specific aesthetic and semiotic effect on the listener.

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Analogy primarily refers to a comparison made on the basis of the structural relationships between the terms that are involved in the comparison. For example, a computer scientist may make an analogy between a machine and the human brain in order to clarify the nature of artificial intelligence. The analogy would imply that the two objects function in similar ways, with the implication that understanding one will help one understand the other.

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Anaphora has two different and almost opposite meanings depending on whether one is using it within the context of linguistics or rhetoric. In linguistics, it usually refers to the replacement of a part of a sentence with a pro-word form in order to minimize clumsy repetition. In contrast, in rhetoric, the term refers to using the same phrase over and over again in successive sentences in order to build a powerful effect for the listener.

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A person shares an anecdote when he talks about someone or something he saw or heard about; the anecdote usually arises within the context of a specific conversation, and the speaker shares it because it is relevant to the conversation. The anecdote is meant to have a positive effect on the listener, whether by simply making him laugh or causing him the experience some kind of enlightenment.

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Antanaclasis draws on the fact that several English words have contain multiple different meanings. For example, the written word "wind" could refer both to a gust of air and to cause a living creature to have difficulty breathing. Alternatively pronounced, it could also refer to (for example) winding a spring. An antanaclasis would occur if the speaker were to make use of several of these meanings within the same passage of text.

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A climax would be the high point of action, energy, and emotion within a narrative work; therefore, an anticlimax refers to a scene that one would imagine to have these features, but which is instead just dull and relatively nondescript. Anticlimax usually implies that a narrative arc was developed somewhat poorly, or that the action peaked too quickly or too early. The word does not generally have a positive connotation.

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An antiphrasis is a way of making people smile of laugh as a result of leading them to expect one thing but then suggesting something else. For example, if one were to speak of a basketball player who is "an impressive eight feet short", this would be an antiphrasis; and it would also be funny, firstly because no one uses the term short in this way, and secondly because virtually no one is eight feet tall. 

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An antithesis is, literally, the opposite of the thesis; so, if the thesis were to be the protagonist of a story, then the antithesis would be the antagonist. Likewise, if the thesis were to be democracy, then the antithesis would be tyranny. The term has its roots in the tradition of thought known as dialectics, where the thesis and antithesis creatively interact with each other in order to produce higher forms of meaning. 

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An aphorism is often widely recognized within a given society or culture; as such, an aphorism sometimes edges toward cliche, and writers should be careful when using one. On the other hand, the aphorism is also closely related to the proverb; and when it was first invented, it would not have been at risk of being a cliche. It is thus important to pay attention to context of use.

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Synonyms - aphorism

Assonance is one of several techniques of adding musicality to the flow of sounds within a given passage of text. Moreover, assonance is an especially useful one because when it is done right, it can give the illusion of rhyme. Such an illusion is quite effective not only in poetry but also prose, insofar as actually rhymes in the latter may seem a little too forced, whereas assonance is more implicit and subtle.

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If text is boilerplate, this means that the text can be used by various people without significant alteration. The term often refers, for example, to the text of syndicated newspaper columns, or standard passages that can be found within most contracts. The term comes from the original practice of printing such passages using sheet steel as a result of the need for greater durability (since the text would be printed repeatedly). Some companies re-use certain policies or sections of their Terms and Conditions to share when necessary. 

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The cataphora reverses the normal pattern of the pronoun referring back to a noun by first using the pronoun and then introducing the noun. The effect is that the reader is put into a state of suspense, because he does not initially know who or what the sentence is talking about. This gives the writer the opportunity to surprise the reader by associating the initial characterization with an unexpected noun.

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In a narrative work, the plot usually develops in such a way that it intensifies over time as characters' actions and emotions build upon each other. The climax is the point at which this intensity reaches a maximum level. One can also speak of technically non-narrative works having a climax. For example, it would be appropriate to say that Beethoven's 9th Symphony reaches a climax in the "Ode to Joy" chorus. 

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Connotation refers to the level of meaning a word has that cannot be fully captured by a dictionary definition of the word; rather, it can only be described by the emotional associations it evokes in the listener. For example, at the level of denotation, the phrase "to have suspicions" simply means to believe that something may be true; however, at the level of connotation, it usually means that the person believes something negative.

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Dead Metaphor

In a way, the very term dead metaphor is somewhat paradoxical. This is because insofar as the dead metaphor does not actually evoke the relevant images in the listener's mind, it is questionable whether the thing is really a metaphor at all. For example, people do not generally think of literally kicking a bucket when they say "kick the bucket"; the relationship between the specified act and the act of dying is nebulous one. 

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The denotation of a word could be loosely understood as its objective meaning, compared to the subjective meaning encompassed by the term connotation. The denotation of a word is simply what the dictionary says the word means, independent from cultural or situational context. When actually used, the word may have meanings for the listener that transcend its denotation. For example, "swastika" meant something quite different for traditional Hindus than it now does for modern Westerners. 

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Deus Ex Machina

Deus ex machina literally means "god out of the machine". This is a reference to the way that when a deus ex machina is present within a plot, it seems to just come out of nowhere, having no real logical relationship with the rest of the plot. Deus ex machina usually has a pejorative connotation, because it implies that the writer has backed himself into a corner and does not know how to resolve his plot.

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The diatribe is related to the basic tradition of debate, where the assumption is that a higher truth can be reached through a process of argumentation between disagreeing parties. The diatribe is thus closely related to the polemic. The term diatribe, however, connotes a strong current of emotion underlying the verbal attack. This is because either the person takes the issue at hand personally, or because he is actively seeking to make use of appeal to emotion.

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A work is didactic if its primary purpose is to educate or enlighten the reader. This can come across either in the tone of the work or its actual content. In principle, there is nothing wrong with a work being didactic. In practice, however, the term is sometimes used in a negative way. For example, to call a novel didactic could mean that its "condescending" tone has detracted from its aesthetic merit.

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The purpose of a dysphemism is essentially to characterize a given object in a negative way. For example, a person who distrusts psychiatry may call a psychiatrist a "shrink"; and a racist person may use slurs when referring to people from minority backgrounds. In a parallel way to how a euphemism is meant to convey a positive connotation, the dysphemism is meant to convey a negative connotation.

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The epigram is a very old literary device, originating with the ancient Greeks and then being adopted by the Romans. It is simply a way of conveying an idea in a pithy and punchy fashion that gets the reader's attention and then remains within his memory as well (much like a cliche). The epigram is usually understood as trying to make some kind of moral or philosophical point, although this is not necessarily always the case.

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Synonyms - epigram

The purpose of the euphemism is to cover up an unpleasant reality by using words that do not call direct attention to the actual nature of the situation at hand. For example, people can say that a given person "passed away" in order to avoid thinking about death in too direct of a way. Likewise, the government may use the term "redaction" in order to avoid the political implications of the more direct term censorship.

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Synonyms - euphemism

Within a scholarly context, an exposition is the process through which the writer develops his ideas and communicates them to the reader in a coherent way. Within a narrative context, exposition refers to the development of background or key themes that will be foundation for the further progression of the narrative. What both of these usages clearly have in common is the basic concept of systematic development.

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The hypophora consists of two parts: the first is the question asked by the speaker, and the second is the speaker's response to his own question. The hypophora is thus different from a rhetorical question, because it actually is meant to be answered. The main purpose of the hypophora is to enable the speaker to anticipate the listeners' concerns and then address them within the context of his own speech. 

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Imagery is used to enhance the vividness of writing and to "paint a picture" for the reader. A writer who uses imagery well can appeals to the reader's imagination by linking words with sensory experiences. This can be achieved either through well-selected use of adjectives and descriptive words or through the use of metaphors, which can link more abstract thoughts or ideas with utterly concrete objects and images.

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An innuendo is a literary device used by a speaker when he wants to suggest something about a person or thing, but when for whatever reason, he may not wish to explicitly state what is on his mind. The most common form of innuendo is, of course, sexual innuendo. For example, it may be socially inappropriate to speak plainly about a given person's erotic life. So, innuendo would be used to say something without saying it. 

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Irony is used in order to indirectly call attention to a point that is different from the specific words a given person is using. For example, if someone were to say in a snide tone of voice that he just "loves" a given book, this would actually mean that he does not care for the book at all. Irony is thus a very important tool for indirect communication, or when one wishes to call attention to some state of affairs that cannot be addressed in a direct way. 

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Synonyms - irony

When a person uses a litote, he is essentially saying something negative and mixing it with understatement in order to say a positive thing. For example, if someone were to suggest that a given man were not the brightest crayon in the box, then this would be a way of indirectly stating that the man in question is actually quite stupid. This is usually accompanied by a humorous effect when the listener realizes what is actually being said. 

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One rather common merism within the English language would consist of the phrase "lock, stock, and barrel". Of course, this phrase essentially just means "everything", since the three words in the merism capture the full scope of a given object. In world literature, the Holy Bible is particularly prolific in its use of the merism in order to convey a sense of grandeur or totality in the vision of the world it invokes. 

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Synonyms - merism

In any natural language, there are many rhetorical devices that accumulate over time and have common contexts of use. A metalepsis consists of a transgression of this common usage, through which the figure of speech is used in a new and innovative context. The metalepsis is closely connected to poetic metaphor, insofar as the main idea is to apply a common image or turn of phrase in a new way and thereby produce new aesthetic and semiotic associations. 

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Synonyms - metalepsis

The main purpose of a metaphor is to draw attention to certain qualities of the objects being associated through the figure of speech. For example, the Bible identifies Jesus as the Lion of Judah; this calls attention to a certain ferocity in the figure of Jesus that may otherwise go unnoticed. A metaphor is different from a simile in that whereas a simile uses the transition "like" or "as", the metaphor just directly links the two objects in question.  

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The purpose of a metonymy is generally to focus the rhetorical emphasis of a reference to an object on a specific quality of that object. For example, one might call a psychiatrist a whitecoat; this would be a metonymy whose purpose would be to call attention to the abstract and/or mechanical aspect of the work of the psychiatrist, as opposed to the more human or emotional dimension of the profession.  

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An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that uses terms to contradict itself. Many different phrases could potentially qualify as an oxymoron, depending on the context of use and the standards of any given language user. For example, the phrase "crazy wisdom" would strike some people as an oxymoron, due to the fact that wisdom would seem to be such that it cannot be crazy. On the other hand, though, it may not be an oxymoron within the context of certain philosophical or spiritual traditions that have room for such a concept. 

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The best way to understand what a paradox is would be to contrast it with the related concept of logical contradiction. A contradiction is a statement that simply does not follow the rules of logic and must thus be dismissed as unsound on the basis of the laws of reason. A paradox, on the other hand, is also generally unsound on a purely rational basis; but then, the whole point is that the statement points to a truth that lies beyond the bounds of reason. 

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When a writer or speaker engages in personification, he attributes human qualities to non-human things. This is often done, for example, with animals: one may speak of them as if they had human thoughts and feelings, when in fact they would not be literally capable of such a thing. One of the main effects of personification is that it gives the personified object a sense of rather and emotive sense of aliveness. 

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When sarcasm is used within the context of a given rhetoric, the main purpose is usually to mock a given idea or position by almost pretending to agree with it and parrot it. For example, if a person says in a snide tone of voice that something was a great idea, then he is using sarcasm, and what he means to say is that it was actually a terrible idea. The effective use of sarcasm is generally premised on some shared cultural understanding of norms. 

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The purpose of a simile is to illustrate a quality of an object by comparing the object to another object. For example, the suggestion that a given woman is moody as the Moon would be a simile that uses the phases of the Moon to illustrate the nature of the woman's temperament. The simile is characterized by the use of the words "like" or "as" to make the comparison. A metaphor would instead just suggest that the woman was the Moon

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The synecdoche usually serves one of two main purposes. The first is to simply provide a shorthand way of talking about common events. For example, when one talks about a sports team, one might just use the synecdoche of the city name itself, instead of writing out the full name of the team in question. The second purpose of the synecdoche is to call special attention to a specific aspect or quality of the object as a whole. 

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The term tautology has two main meanings. Within rhetoric, a tautology is when someone (often unintentionally) says the same thing through two different phrases, sometimes within the same sentence. This kind of tautology is usually considered problematic and a sign of bad writing style. Within logic, though, a tautology is just an inherently true statement. For example, the statement that 2 = 2 would be a logical tautology.  

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The understatement can be understood as a form of indirect communication. Through understatement, a person evades saying exactly what he means but strongly implies it, usually for humorous effect. For example, if someone says that the state of Alaska is "pretty big", he would be engaging in understatement regarding the obvious fact that Alaska is enormous and larger in itself than most European nations. 

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