Nov 16, 2015

What James Joyce Taught Me About Rhetorical Devices

So, Ulysses is progressing, slowly but surely. Everything went fine until I got to the Aeolus episode (the one in the newspaper offices).  Suddenly it just stopped making sense. There were these weird titles, and even though I had read the notes in Ulysses Annotated, I couldn't understand what was going on. I understood the words, even the sentences they formed, but the whole of it . . . Nope. Then I noticed a note at the bottom of the page on Ulysses Annotated about rhetorical devices. This led me to an appendix titled "Rhetorical Figures in Aeolus."

Yay! Finally it makes sense; Joyce designated the "art" of this episode to be rhetoric and then proceeded to stuff it with every rhetorical device imaginable.

What is a rhetorical device? Wikipedia defines it as a technique that the author (or speaker) uses to convey to the reader (or listener) a meaning with the goal of persuading her to consider a topic from a different perspective. Maybe it's to provoke a rational argument from an emotional display, or to evoke an emotional response or to give perspective to action. Different aspects of this are logos (using logical ideas to appeal to the audience), pathos (appealing to the audience's emotions), and ethos (describing the guiding beliefs of an ideology, nation, or community, an appeal based on the character of the speaker). Check out Aristotle's Rhetoric for more. (I'm adding it to my to-be-read list, but one massively difficult book at a time.)

 I found stuff on the list that I've never heard of, a lot of it fascinating. It kind of makes me want to try some of them out in my writing, too. No, not like Joyce. I do appreciate the complexity of the Ulysses, but I feel that writing and storytelling should be about communicating with the reader, not only with English professors. (Come on, admit it, Joyce is kind of a show-off. A lot of the time it feels like he's thumbing his nose at the reader, doing a little jig, and singing "I'm smarter that you, I'm smarter than you!")

Here's a few examples, divided into three categories. The middle one has the stuff I plan to try out. (The quotations are from Ulysses and the explanations of the rhetorical devices from Ulysses Annotated) :

Kiddie stuff

Allegory: description of a subject under the guise another subject. Example: "Youth led by Experience visits Notoriety."

Alliteration: the repetition of similar consonant sounds at the beginning of words or stressed syllables. Example: "Peeled pear."

Anticlimax: opposite of climax. Example: "Father Son and Holy Ghost and Jakes McCarthy."

Anagram: the transposition of the letters of a word. Example: "feetstoops."

Anataclasis/antistasis: repeating the same word in a different sense. Example: "More Irish than the Irish."

Apocope: the omission of the last letter or syllable of a word. Example: "Nannan" (For Nannetti.)

Asyndeton: the omission of conjunctions. Example: "They watched the knees, legs, boots vanish."

Climax: arrangement of words, phrases, clauses in order of increasing importance. Example: "and then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher and then the angel of death kills the butcher."

Diasyrm: an expression of ridicule or disparagement. Example:"All his brains are in the nape of his neck."

Ecphonesis: an exclamation. Example: "Start, Palmerston Park!"

Epimome: persistent use of the same word or words. Example: "Fat folds of neck, fat, neck, fat, neck."

Epiphora: the insistent repetition of a word at the end of several sentences. Example: "Working away, tearing away."

Homoteleuton: a series of words with same/similar endings. "Mouth south: tomb womb:"

Hypochorism: a pet name. Example: "Doughy Daw."
Irony: intended meaning is opposite of the words used. Example: "Our lovely land."

Metaphor: the comparison of one thing to another without using like or as. Example: "Weathercocks." (Referring to journalists.)

Onomatopoeia: the formation of a name or word by imitation of the sound associated with it. Example: "Sllt" (Thesound of the printing machine against the paper, or something like that.)

Oxymoron: the conjoining of contradictory terms to give point to a statement or expression. Example: "I feel a strong weakness."

Palinderome: a word or verse that reads the same backwards and forwards. Example: "Madam, I'm Adam."

Parenthesis: an explanation inserted into a sentence with which it has no necessary connection. Example: "The Roman . . . brought to every shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession."

Paronomasia: a pun. Example: "The Rows of Castille . . . Rose of cast steel."

Polysyndeton: the use of several conjunctions together or repetition of the same conjunction. Example: "And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher . . ."

Prolepsis: the anticipation of and response to an opponent's objection. Example: "Vast, I allow."

Prosopopoeia/personification: an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking/acting; also, investing abstractions with human qualities.

Simile: comparing something to something else using like or as. Example: "The loose flesh of his neck shook like a cock's wattles."

Syncope: the loss of letters or sounds in the middle  of a word. Example: "o'er."

Synonymy: the use synonyms for amplification. Example: "the vista far and wide."

Tautology: needless repetition of a word/phrase. Example: "Our old ancient ancestors."

Say what?

Anacoensis: the speaker appeals to the hearers for their opinion. "Look here. What did Ignatius Gallaher do?"

Anaphora: repetition of a phrase in several successive clauses. "See it in your face. See it in your eye."

Anthimeria: the substitution of one part of speech for another. Example: "Now am I going to tram it out all the way . . . "  ("Tram" becomes a verb.)

Ellipsis: a deliberate omission of a word or words implied by context. Example: "Hand on his heart." <-> (His) hand on his heart.

Erotesis/erotema: the bold assertion in the form of a question of the opposite that the question asks. Example: "Or was it you that shot the lord lieutenant of Finland between you?"

Hyperbaton/anastrophe: the inversion of the natural order of words or phrases, especially for emphasis. Example: "Hell of a racket they make."

Hypothyposis: the visionary imagination of thing not present. Example: "The ghost walks."

Metonymy: the substitution of an attribute of the thing for the thing itself. Example: "THE WEARER OF THE CROWN" (Refers to a king?)

Mimesis: an imitation of the words or actions of another. Example "Boohoo! Lenehan wept." (Mimicking the grief of Pyrrhus' followers.)

Paramegnon: the conjoining of words derived from one another. Example: "imperial, imperious, imperative."

Solecism: the violation of the rules of grammar or syntax. Example: "pensive bosom."

Syllepsis: a word made to refer to two or more words in the same sentence while proper applying to only one, or applying to them in different senses (literal and figurative). Example: "Gave it to them on a hot plate, the whole bloody history."

Synecdoche: the use of a more comprehensive term for a less comprehensive (whole for part or part for whole). Example: "Neck." stands for the whole man here.

Synchoresis: concession, a rhetorical device of enlisting sympathy before a tirade. Example:"Vast, I allow: but vile."

Truncated simile: a comparison of one thing to another especially as an ornament in rhetoric or poetry. Example: "Steal upon larks."

Zeugma: the use of a single word to modify or govern two or more words, especially when applying them in different senses. Example: "We are the boys of Wesxford/ Who fought with heart and hand."


Anacoluthia: a want of grammatical sequence; passing from one construction to another before the former is complete. Example: "Maybe he understands what I."

Anastomosis: insertion of a qualifying word between two parts of another word. Example:"Underdarkneath."

Anastrophy: inversion of the usual order of clauses/words. Example: "Was he short taken?"

Chiasmus: reversal of words in parallel clauses. Example: "Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding out of Prince's stores and bumped them up on the brewery float. On the brewery float bumped dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen out of Prince's stores."

Diaresis: the division of one syllable into two. Example: "Co-ome thou lost one/ Co-one thou dear one."

Enthyme: an argument based on a probable premise. Example: "If you want to draw the cashier is just going to lunch." (The implication is that it's payday.)

Metathesis: a transposition of words; the interchange of position between sounds or letters in a word. Example:  kcirtaP."

Prolepsis: the taking of the future as already existing. Example: "The moon, professor MacHugh said."

Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman


  1. I need to read Ulysses. :-) I have used a few of these, not knowing the name, especially the ones involving repetition. Unfortunately, people get very caught up in writing trends, and when they critique my chapters they tell me to delete any words used more than once. They don't see that the words are repeated for emphasis. Ah well.
    Great post! Bookmarking it.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you found it useful:) I think repetition can be very powerful in writing, especially when done in a subtle way. I just saw this exercise in a Finnish writing magazine to do a bit of flash fiction where you repeat a similar phrase in the beginning of every paragraph, but the phrase evolves along the way. Feels like an interesting exercise.

      If you go for Ulysses, I do recommend a "guidebook." I'd have missed a whole lot if I didn't have the annotations. ( They do make this slow going, but I think Ulysses is worth the extra time, especially if you're reading it as a writer.)


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