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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Rhetorical Terms

    (Terms in blue link to articles showing their current use. Donuts link to Homerisms: figures of speech by characters in “The Simpsons.” Learn all you want—we’ll make more!)

    accismus (ak-SIS-muss)
    The oh-you-shouldn’t-have figure.

    acyrologia (a-KEER-o-LO-gia)
    The fortunate mix-up, or malapropism.

    ad hominem (ad-HOM-in-em)
    The character attack.

    The figure of hidden meaning.

    adynata (a-dyn-AH-ta)
    The last-person-on-earth figure. It links a series of impossibilities as a form of hyperbole.

    a fortiori (ah-for-tee-OR-ee)
    The Mikey-likes it! argument. If something less likely is true, then something more likely is bound to be true.

    Beginning the first letter of succeeding words with the same letter, usually a consonant.

    alloiosis (al-oy-OH-sis)
    The this-isn’t-that figure.

    amphidiorthosis (am-phi-die-or-THO-sis)
    The watered-down charge. You cool off an angry statement, either before or after.

    ampliatio (am-plee-OT-ee-oh)
    The worn-out label.

    anacoluthon (an-a-COL-u-thon)
    The grammar shift.

    anadiplosis (an-a-di-PLO-sis)
    The last-word first-word repetition.
    Also see this.

    analogy (an-AL-oh-gee)
    The figure of parallel cases.

    anamnesis (ah-nam-NEE-sis)
    The memory figure. It quotes an authority from the past.

    anaphora (ann-AH-for-ah)
    The first-word repeater.
    Also see this. And this.

    anastrophe (ann-ASS-tro- fee)
    The poetic word-order switch.
    Also see this.

    anoiconometon (ah-noi-coh-noh-MEE-ton)
    The jumbled-up figure, in which the words are grotesquely out of order.

    antapodosis (an-tah-POE-doe-sis
    The side-by-side figure. It compares two things that match in more than one way.

    anthimeria (an-thih-MARE-ee-uh)
    The verbing figure.

    anthropopatheia (AN-thro-po-pa-THEE-a)
    The God is my co-pilot figure.

    anthypallage (an-thy-PALL-a-gee)
    The “I’m there” figure. Ancient rhetoricians said it changed a case to make a point; Figaro uses it to change a tense.

    anthypophora (an-thy-POPH-ora)
    The figure that anticipates, and answers, the audience’s objections.

    antirrhesis (an-ter-REE-sis)
    The “Oh, yeah?” argument.

    antisagoge (an-tis-ah-GO-gee)
    The balanced argument.

    antistasis (an-TIH-sta-sis)
    The repeat that changes a word’s meaning.
    Also see this. And this.

    antistrophe (an-TIS-tro-fee)
    The last-word repeater. Also known as epistrophe.
    Also see this.

    antithesis (ann-TIH-the-sis)
    The figure of contrasting ideas.
    Also see this.

    The descriptive nickname.

    apagoresis (a-pa-gor-EE-sis)
    The “better not” figure.

    apodixis (a-po-DIX-is)
    The everybody-knows-it-or-does-it figure.

    apodioxis (a-po-dee-OX-is
    The figure of banishment.

    apophasis (a-PA-pha-sis)
    The deny-it-then-say-it figure.
    Also see this.

    aporia (a-POR-ia)
    The I-don’t-know-how-to-say-this figure; an expression of doubt, real or feigned.

    apomnemonysis (a-pom-nem-o-NIE-sis)
    The figure that quotes an authority.

    argumentum a fortiori (a-for-tee-OR-ee)
    Argument from strength. If something hard is done, then something easy is more likely to be done. Or if an idiot accomplishes something, a whiz is more likely to.
    Also see this.

    asyndeton (a-SYN-de-ton)
    The conjunction skipper.

    autophasia (auto-FAY-sia)
    Catch-22, or the rule that eats itself. Also see this.

    barbarismus (bar-bar-IS-muss)
    An accidental figure that mispronounces a word.
    (Democrats call this figure a “Bushism.”)


    The unintentionally hilarious emotional appeal.

    begging the question
    The fallacy of circular argument.

    The physical description of a lover.

    boehner (BO-ner)
    The figure of unintentional irony.

    bomphiologia (bom-phi-o-LO-gia)
    The chest-beating figure.

    Alternative spelling of boehner; a figure of unintentional irony.

    Mangled political syntax.

    cacemphaton (cak-EM-pha-ton)
    Foul language.

    (cak-o- ZEEL-ee-ah)
    Using foreign words and other ways to display your erudition—only to look like an idiot.

    catachresis (cat-a-KREE-sis)
    The Metaphor Gone Wild.
    Also see this. And this.

    cataplexis (cat-a-PLEEX-is)
    The jeremiad.

    An act that can only be performed by its contrary.
    Also see this.

    ceratin (se-RAT-in)
    The horns of a dilemma.

    charientismus (chah-ren-TIS-muss)
    The figure of graceful mockery

    chiasmus (kee-AZZ-muss)
    The criss-cross figure.
    Also see this.

    chreia (KRAY-uh)
    Repeating a character or event (including a mythical one), either through speech or playacting. Ancient rhetoricians used it as a teaching exercise. The Christian Mass follows the forms of a chreia.

    circumlocution (cir-cum-lo-CUE-tion)
    The rhetorical end run.

    Bringing up an opponent’s past sins to make him look like a shmuck.

    The boiled-down public belief.

    commoratio (co-mo-RAT-io)
    The idea repeater. It restates the same point several times.

    concessio (con-SESS-io)
    The jiu-jitsu figure.

    conduplicatio (con-du-pli-CAT-io)
    Repeating words in different clauses to make a point.
    Also see this.

    converse accident fallacy

    A logical foul that uses a bad example to make a generalization.

    correctio (cor-REK-tio)
    The correction.

    deliberative rhetoric
    One of three types of rhetoric (the other two are legal and demonstrative). Deliberative rhetoric deals with argument about choices. It concerns itself with matters that affect thefuture. Without deliberative rhetoric, we wouldn’t have democracy.

    demonstrative rhetoric
    Also called epideictic, the speech of sermons, funeral orations and national anthems. It uses the present tense and its chief topic is values. Aristotle named it one of the three kinds of rhetoric, the other two being forensic (legal) and deliberative (political).

    dialogismus (die-ah-log-IS mus)
    The one-person conversation.
    Also see this.

    dialysis (die-AL-ih-sis)
    The either/or figure.

    diaphora (die-AH-for-ah)
    Repetition that describes a character.

    diasyrmus (die-ah-SIR-mus)
    The silly comparison.

    diatyposis (die-ah-tie-PO-sis)
    The figure that gives advice.

    diazeugma (die-ah-ZOOG-ma)
    The play-by-play figure.
    Also see this.

    dicaeologia (die-key-oh-LOW-gia)
    The figure of excuse.

    The damned-if-you-do-or-don’t figure.

    dirimens copulatio (dear-ih-mens cop-u-LAT-ee-oh)
    The but-wait-there’s-more figure.
    Also see this.

    effictio (ef-FIK-tio)
    The body figure.

    elenchus (ee-LENK-us)
    A rapid-fire back-and-forth debate.

    enantiosis (en-an-tie-OH-sis)
    The paradoxical contrast.
    Also see this.

    enargia (en-AR-gia)
    The special effects of figures: vivid description that makes an audience believe it’s taking place before their very eyes.
    Also see this.

    The figure of praise.

    ennoia (en-NOY-a)
    The figure of faint praise.

    enthymeme (EN-thih-meem)
    Rhetoric’s version of the syllogism. The enthymeme stakes a claim and then bases it on commonly accepted opinion. A little packet of logic, it can provide protein to an argument filled with emotion.
    Also see this.

    epergesis (eh-per-GEE-sis)
    The clarifier.
    Also see this.

    epexegesis (ee-pex-eh-GEE sis)
    Alternative spelling of epergesis.

    epideictic (ep-ih-dee-IC-tic)
    Demonstrative rhetoric, the speech of sermons, funeral orations and national anthems. It uses the present tense and its chief topic is values. Aristotle named it one of the three kinds of rhetoric, the other two being forensic (legal) and deliberative (political).

    epiphonema (eh-pih-fo-NEE-ma)
    The memorable summary.

    epistrophe (e-PIS-tro-phee)
    The end-word repeat. (Also known as antistrophe.)

    epitasis (eh-PIT-ah-sis)
    The add-on figure.

    epitrope (eh-PIH-tro-pee)
    Appearing to concede a point; actually, though, you’re making fun of it. The epitrope is a form of irony.

    equivocation (e-quiv-o-KAY-shon)
    The language mask.

    eristic (er-ISS-tick)
    A competitive argument for the sake of argument.

    The rhetorical question.

    Argument by character. It’s one of the three kinds of argument; the other two are pathos (argument by emotion) and logos (argument by logic).

    eucharistia (eu-ka-RIS-tia)
    The thanksgiving figure.

    euphemismus (eu-phe-MIS-mus)
    The euphemism, or sugar-coated figure.

    eutrepismus (eu-tra-PIS-mus)
    The enumerating figure.

    An example that backs up an argument.


    exergasia (ex-er-GAS-ia)
    The restatement. It repeats thoughts in different words.

    exuscitatio (ex-us-ih-TA-io)
    The feel-what-I’m-feeling appeal.

    The storytelling example.

    false analogy
    The fallacy of strange bedfellows.

    heterogenium (het-er-oh-GEE-nee-um)

    The interrupter.

    hyperbole (hie-PER-bo-lee)
    The figure of exaggeration.

    hypophora (hie-PAH-for-uh)
    A figure that answers your own question. (What’s the secret to comedy? Timing!)

    hysterologia (hys-ter-o-LO-gia)
    The preposition interrupter.

    hysteron proteron
    The word-order swap.

    idiom (ID-ee-om)
    The figure of inseparable words.

    ignoratio elenchi (ig-no-ROT-io eh-LEN-chee)
    The fallacy of proving the wrong conclusion.

    indignatio (in-dig-NOT-io)
    The figure of scorn. Like a cohortatio, it makes the foe look like a jerk.

    inopinatum (in-op-in-OT-um)
    The figure of disbelief.

    The technique of planting negative ideas in the audience’s head.

    isocolon (i-so-CO-lon)
    The figure of similar clauses.
    Also see this.

    jeremiad (jer-e MI-ad)
    Prophecy of doom; also called cataplexis.

    kairos (KIE-ros)
    The rhetorical art of seizing the moment.

    leptologia (lep-to-LO-gia)
    Also see this.

    litotes (lie TOE tees)
    The figure of ironic understatement, usually negative.
    Also see this. And this.

    Argument by logic. One of the three forms of argument; the other two are argument by emotion (pathos) and argument by character (ethos).

    A humorously misapplied word; an acyrologia.

    martyria (mar-TEER-ia)
    A figure that recalls the speaker’s own experience.


    meiosis (mie-OH-sis)
    The shrinking figure.
    Also see this. And this.

    mempsis (MEMP-sis)
    The figure of reproach.

    metalepsis (met-ah-LEP-sis)
    The figure of remote cause.

    metallage (meh-TAL-ah-gee)
    The “Don’t give me ‘why’” figure

    metanoia (met-ah-NOY-a)
    The self-correcting figure.


    metastasis (met-AH-stah-sis)
    Skipping over an awkward matter.


    metonymy (meh-TON-ih-mee)
    The figure of swap.

    mycterismus (mik-terr-IS-muss)
    The sneer.

    neologism (NEE-oh-loh-gism)
    The newly minted word.

    non sequitur (non SEH-quit-tur)
    The figure of irrelevance.

    onomatopoeia (onna-motta-PEE-ah)
    The noisemaker.

    optatio (op-TOT-io)
    An exclamation of desire.

    palilogia (pa-lih-LO- ja)
    The repeater.
    Also see this.

    parabola (puh-RA-bo-la)
    The parable.

    paradiastole (pa-rah-die-ASS-toh-lee)
    The label flip.

    paradigm (PAR-ah-dime)
    Argument from example.

    The contrary figure.
    Also see this.

    paraenesis (pah-RAY-neh-sis)
    The Chicken Little figure. It warns of impending doom.


    paralipsis (pa-ra-LIP-sis)
    The no-pun-intended figure.

    paraprosdokian (pa-ra-proze-DOKE-ian)
    The unexpected ending.

    parelcon (pa-REL-con)
    The “like” figure.

    parenthesis (pa-REN-thih-sis)
    The “by-the-way” figure.

    pareuresis (pa-ROOR-eh-sis)
    The overwhelming excuse.
    Also see this.

    paroemion (pa-RO-mee-on)

    paromoiosis (pa-ro-moi-OH-sis)
    The side-by-side figure.

    paromologia (pa-ro-mo-LO-gia)
    The jiu jitsu move—strategically conceding a point in order to use it to your own advantage.
    Also see this.

    paronomasia (pa-ro-no-MAY-sia)
    A pun that plays on words that sound or mean the same, but aren’t identical.
    Also see this. And this.

    parrhesia (pah-RAY-sia)
    The excuse-my French figure.

    Argument by emotion. One of the three forms of argument; the other two are argument by logic (logos), and argument by character (ethos).

    perclusio (per-CLOO-sio)
    The threat.

    periergia (per-ee-ER-gia)
    The figure of over-figuring.

    periphrasis (per-IF-ra-sis)
    The figure that swaps a descriptive phrase for a proper name, or vice versa.
    Also see this.

    petitio principii (pe-TIH-tio prin-CIH-pee)
    Begging the question; the fallacy of circular argument.

    Practical wisdom; street savvy.

    ploce (PLO-see)
    The braided figure.

    polyptoton (po-LIP-to-ton)
    The root repeater.

    polysyndeton (polly-SIN-deh-ton)
    The conjunction connector.

    portmanteau (port-man-TOW
    The hybrid word.

    prolepsis (pro-LEP-sis)
    The fight-fire-with-fire tactic. The speaker anticipates the opponent’s points and undercuts them in advance.

    post hoc ergo propter hoc
    The chanticleer fallacy.
    Also see this.

    prosopopoeia (pro-so-po-PEE-uh)
    The figure of personification.
    Also see this.

    pysma (PISS-mah)
    The figure of multiple questions.

    Using careful language to obfuscate. The rhetorical term is leptologia.

    ratiocinatio (ra-tio-cin-AH tio)
    Reasoning through questions.

    red herring
    The fallacy of distraction.

    reductio ad absurdum
    Taking an opponent’s argument to its illogical conclusion.

    skotison (SKO-tih-son)
    The figure of ultimate darkness.

    slippery slope fallacy
    The fallacy of dire consequences. It assumes that one choice will necessarily lead to a cascading series of bad choices.

    solecism (SOL-eh-sizm)
    The figure of ignorance.

    straw man fallacy
    Instead of dealing with the actual issue, attack a weaker version of the argument. (For another article, click here.)

    symploce (SIM-plo-see)
    The first-and-last repeater.
    Also see this.

    synchoresis (sin-cho-REE-sis)
    Conceding a point to make a stronger one.

    syncrisis (SIN-crih-sis)
    The not-that-but-this figure.
    Also see this.

    synecdoche (sin-ECK-doe-kee)
    The scale-changing figure.

    synoeciosis (sin-eh-SEE-eh-sis)
    An extended oxymoron.

    synonymia (sin-oh-NIM-ia)
    The use of synonyms to elaborate.

    tapinosis (tap-in-OH-is)
    The figure of nicknames.
    Also see this.

    tasis (TAY-sis)
    The delectable figure.

    tautology (taw-TAH-lo-gee)
    The redundant figure.

    thaumasmus (thaw-MAS-mus)
    The figure of wondering.

    topothesia (to-po-THEE-sia)
    Description of an imaginary place.

    traductio (trah-DOOK-tio)
    A repetition that modifies a word.

    unintentional irony
    The joke’s-on-me figure.

    yogiism (YOGEE-ism)
    The idiot savant figure, named after the immortal Yogi Berra. (Also spelled yogism.)