Week 3: (figure of speech)

A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetorical, or elocution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. Figures of speech are often used and crafted for emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use.
Note that not all theories of meaning necessarily have a concept of "literal language". Under theories that do not, figure of speech is not an entirely coeherent concept.
As an example of the figurative use of a word, consider the sentence, I am going to crown you. It may mean:
  • I am going to place a literal crown on your head.
  • I am going to symbolically exalt you to the place of kingship.
  • I am going to punch you in the head with my clenched fist.
  • I am going to put a second checkers piece on top of your checkers piece to signify that it has become a king (as in the game of checkters).
Scholars of classical Western rhetoric have divided figures of speech into two main categories: schemes and tropes. Schemes (from the Greek schēma, form or shape) are figures of speech in which there is a deviation from the ordinary or expected pattern of words. For example, the phrase, "John, my best friend" uses the scheme known as apposition. Tropes (from the Greek tropein, to turn) involve changing or modifying the general meaning of a term. An example of a trope is the use of irony, which is the use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning ("For Brutus is an honorable man; / So, are they all, honorable men").
During the Renaissance, a time when scholars in every discipline had a passion for classifying all things, writers expended a great deal of energy in devising all manner of classes and sub-classes of figures of speech. Henry Peacham, for example, in his The Garden of Eloquence (1577) enumerated 184 different figures of speech.
For the sake of simplicity, this article divides the figures between schemes and tropes, but does not attempt further sub-classification (e.g., "Figures of Disorder"). Within each category, words are listed alphabetically. Each figure links to a page that provides greater detail and relevant examples, but a short definition is placed here for convenience. Some of those listed may be considered rhetorical devices, which are similar in many ways.


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