5 Uncommon Figures of Speech to Spice Up Your Writing (Part 1)

Are you familiar with anaphora, antithesis, chiasmus, metonymy, and synecdoche? Use these less common figures of speech to convey meanings in a more vivid and impressive manner both in writing and speaking.

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read
Episode #352

Antithesis  [an-tith-uh-sis]

Antithesis uses two contrasting ideas, words, or phrases together to balance each other out.
Advertisers often use figures of speech because they can efficiently express ideas and they’re memorable.  Do you remember the old Mounds and Almond Joy commercial jingle “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t”? In this famous jingle, written by Leon Carr, using just fifteen words and antithesis as the rhetorical tool, this ad cleverly and most importantly memorably highlights the difference in the candy.  

Here are a few more examples of antithesis that you’ve probably heard and remember.

“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14

"To err is human, to forgive, divine." Alexander Pope. Perhaps the most famous example of antithesis.

'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Said by Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon.*

Chiasmus [kahy-az-muh s]

When Squiggly says to Aardvark “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” he’s using antithesis, but he’s using a special type called chiasmus. Chiasmus puts parallel phrases in reverse order to make a point. I prefer to refer to this one as “crisscross apple sauce” –can you tell I have young children? 

My favorite example of this is classic advertising jingle “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand 'cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” From advertising point of view, we repeat what we remember and remember what we repeat.

Using chiasmus can be fun too; here’s one that made me chuckle:

"It was Old Granddad that really made Granddad old.”

or thought provoking:

"Many youthful men long for fame, and many famous men long for youth."

Both of those were written by Dennis Rudley, who was dubbed the master of chiasmus. I included a link to see more of his chiastic wordplay.

Metonymy [mi-ton-uh-me]

Next we have metonymy.  Metonymy is a figure of speech where a word or phrase is replaced with a similar word that represents it. In many cases, the metonym is more commonly used than the actual term.

For example, recently Squiggly asked Aardvark,  “When Hollywood knows my name,  do you think I’ll still be able to eat chocolate?

And read online that Katy Perry recently said, “Hollywood is so fake and people need to realize that people are just people . . .”

Of course, when Katy and Squiggly use the word “Hollywood” they are referring to professional actors or celebrities, not the town of Hollywood – and we know that because that’s how those words are commonly used.  It’s like when we call the news media “the press.” When we refer to the U.S. President and staff as “The White House,” or we refer to Wall Street, Broadway, or The Pentagon, we are using common metonyms.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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