Daily Archives: April 17, 2015

antanaclasis, polyptoton

Imagine lettering these letters on a sheet of letter paper, or articulating them in an article: antanaclasis with its forays of four a’s – see those two articles an an in an article, appearing as is – and polyptoton with its two p’s to tease (and two t’s too), like a pair of polyps until appearing in toto. Such repetition with variation – forms varying as they repeat and repeating as they vary. If you could map them to a map you might imagine an image of Antananarivo, perhaps, or some proximate topology (like the tsingy). But have these word forms landed on the page to inform us about land forms? Is antanaclasis doing its eye-breaking break-dancing to slide in in place of some slide about a landslide? Does polyptoton fall like some fell waterfall, pooling in a pool of manifold loops, so many loopy topoi like so many folds?

In fact, though the results echo by sheer reflex, though the shape reflects that echo and faces you like a sheer rock face, they are not geographic; and though the technique may be rhapsodic – even euphuistic – the technical terms are rock-hard canonical rhetoric, classed more in the classical canon than in hard rock.

Can you sense their sense? Are the above paragraphs sensible or nonsensical? Well, never mind, I’ll ease your mind – or I’ll remind you if you were once mindful of these terms: they refer to related figures in speech and writing.

Antanaclasis comes from Greek ἀντανάκλασις, from ἀντανακλᾶν antanaklan ‘reflect, bend back’, from ἀντί anti ‘against, in the opposite direction’ and ἀνακλᾶν anaklan ‘bend back, break’ (from ἀνα ‘back’ and κλᾶν ‘break’), and it refers to use of a word in multiple meanings: not to find the mean, nor to be mean, but just to mean in more than one way along the way.

Polyptoton comes from Greek πολύπτωτος, which comes from πολυ polu ‘many’ and πτωτος ptótos ‘falling’, and it refers to use of many cases or derived forms of a word: you derive forms by forming derivations to inform your readers formally.

Both of these have been used judiciously by great writers for subtle effect – they are certainly most effective when used subtly. Mind you, antanaclasis is really a way of punning; when Pistol in Shakespeare’s Henry V says “To England will I steal, and there I’ll steal,” he’s using just the same kind of figure as in the joke “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” But polyptoton sounds more rhetorical, more speechy: “The Greeks are strong, and skillful to their strength, Fierce to their skill, and to their fierceness valiant” (Troilus and Cressida, by Shakespeare again).

Anyway, you can figure out whether and how they will figure in to your writing. You may enjoy writing their figures – their repeating loops of a’s and o’s and p’s – or you may find them disfiguring; you may like playing with the play and interplay of that their senses denote, or you may find it a senseless display. It’s up to you.

This late loopy type foray is for a type IVa who has lately closed another loop.