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Antanaclasis that's what!
February 6, 2014 - Stephen Browne
The part of a journalist's life we don't like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.
For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.
You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.
Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you're looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.
Antana-what? You well may ask.
Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning "against" or "back," ana "up," and klasis "breaking." In Latin it's called refractio "rebounding" and it's a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.
Those things that us writers do are called "figures of speech" and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae "The Forrest of Rhetoric," a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.
I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.
Antanaclasis is defined as, "The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance."
That's a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it's a different word.
"Your argument is sound...all sound." —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in "reasonable" versus sound as in "air" or "wind.")
"In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft." ("Skill" versus "cunning" or "fraud.")
In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.
"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm." —Vince Lombardi
Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D'israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.
Gladstone once said, "Mr. D'israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease."
"That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress," D'israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D'israeli in these exchanges.)
Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it's not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning "to adopt a position with passionate conviction" versus "to hold in your arms."
So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?
I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.
Watch this space for further developments.
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