Literary Device Resurrection

Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer_by_uberwekknessIt’s been quite a while since we last talked about literary devices, so I thought it would be fun to tell you about a few more of the lesser-known devices. As you read their definitions and examples, you might discover a device that you use in your own writing that you never knew had a name. For me, that’s the first device we’re going to look at.

This device is what we call it when a word or a phrasal verb is broken into two parts, with another word inserted in between. When used with phrasal verbs, tmesis is less noticeable, but when it’s used with individual words, tmesis definitely stands out. That’s because it is typically used to emphasize enthusiasm or annoyance. Here are some examples of tmesis:

  • Let’s get the gang together for one last vampire hunt.
  • That’s a fan-freaking-tastic idea, Buffy!

This device describes when we refer to something not by its own name, but instead by another word that is closely linked to it. Metonymy is similar to another literary device, synecdoche, but with synecdoche the other word is a part of the thing being referenced (e.g., referring to an airplane as wings). With metonymy, the other word is not a part of the thing being referenced.

  • Buffy, we’ve got two fangs at five o’clock! (In this case, fangs = vampires.)

This device is a type of circumlocution. Periphrasis is when someone uses excessive, and often bigger and more complex, words to say something that could be said in a few words. Sometimes, periphrasis is used to make something sound grand or fancy, like saying powder room instead of bathroom. Other times, it’s used as a kind of distraction, drawing attention away from the heart of what’s being expressed. Here are some examples:

  • The stake hit its mark, releasing the vampire from the shackles of his immortal coil. (AKA, the vampire died.)
  • You are the kindest person I’ve ever met, with the heart of a poet and the soul of an angel. (An answer to “do you think I’m pretty?”)

This device is when two clauses are placed together, and the second clause is an inverted version of the first. When the entire structure is inverted, it’s also called antimetabole. Examples of chiasmus can be found in ancient Sanskrit and ancient Chinese writings. And ancient Greeks orators used it all the time. It’s easy to see why — chiasmus is a great device for emphasizing a key idea or message. Here is an example:

  • You can take the vampire out of the darkness, but you can’t take the darkness out of the vampire.

So there you have it. Four new literary devices to add to your writer’s repertoire. Let me know which one is your favourite.

Image credit: uberwekkness

13 thoughts on “Literary Device Resurrection

  1. Thank you for making Grammar fun. It’s been a long time since I was at school but English is my second language so I’m still playing catch-up. I won’t remember the names of those literary devices (just as I forget people’s names) but maybe they’ll sound familiar and less scary when I see them again. 🙂

  2. I’d heard of tmesis (often used with, shall we say, stronger expletives than the one you used), but I didn’t know there was a word for it. You learn something new every day.

    1. Yeah, the name was new to me too. The device itself, not so much. And, like you, in my experience it’s typically used with much more, um, colourful language. 😉

    1. Well, you know, vowels are highly overrated. 😉 I believe tmesis comes from ancient Greek, so maybe they used the vowels somewhere else…

  3. I’ve seen a couple of these in use but had no idea of the names of any of them. Thanks for the fun and super-educational post. (The real test will be to see if I can remember what any of them are called 🙂 )

  4. Periphrasis. Peri (like periscope) something round. Like beating round the bush. Like running around a location. (circumlocution).
    rather than saying “The guy died”. you say: “The stake hit its mark, releasing the vampire from the shackles of his immortal coil”. So, now I have it memorized. Thank you.

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