From grade school to college, students learn about many commonly known literary devices—analogies, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, to name a few. Yet, while reading literary works over their lives, they see many more and don’t even realize that “Hey, there’s a name for that!” Did you know there is a word for avoiding the conventional placement of words in a sentence? Rather than write “I ran swiftly and nervously,” hyperbaton prefers something different: “Swiftly and nervously, I ran.” Yes, there’s a word for that and much more! Next time you write, try one of these lesser-known literary devices on for size.
Polysyndeton is a device where the writer repeats conjunctions frequently, often one after the other. Have you ever read a sentence that states “I bought a sandwich and cookie and drink and chips” instead of the usual “I bought a sandwich, cookie, drink, and chips”? Obviously, this isn’t ideal for any old sentence, such as that previous, but it works for dramatic effect.
As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M's for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Periphrasis is a literary technique using excessive words and flowery language to state something that could be told conveyed directly. It is used for effect and embellishment but also to speak of something in a roundabout way, perhaps to avoid a harsh and direct point.
What you mean: "I am angry that you didn't pick up milk." What you say: "Your unfortunate forgetfulness after work today left me in quite a disgruntled bind, and I found myself utterly dismayed that my plans to make homemade mashed potatoes were foiled due to lack of the milk that you promised to buy."
A colloquialism is an informal word or phrase, including slang. It is often used to add realism to literary works. For instance, colloquialisms in dialogue help conversations between characters seem similar to how the reader or writer would speak to a friend.
What y'all doing? I ain't going there again. She shoulda left earlier. Aight, I'll bite. That shirt is so sick! He has a lotta time on his hands.
In poetry, a caesura (sez-yoo-ra) is a natural pause in a line, dictated not by style or metrics but by where we’d naturally pause in speech. There are multiple types, all depending on where the caesura occurs. A single line of poetry can contain multiple caesurae or none at all. Overall, the purpose of this device is to emphasize words or vary the rhythm.
- Initial caesura – At the beginning of a line
- Medial caesura – In the middle of a line
- Terminal caesura – At the end of a line
- Feminine caesura – After a nonstressed syllable
- Masculine caesura – After a stressed syllable
'The ship was cheered, || the harbour cleared, Merrily did we drop Below the kirk, || below the hill, Below the lighthouse top. - "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Not marble, || nor the gilded monuments Of princes, || shall outlive this powerful rhyme; But you shall shine more bright in these contents Than unswept stone, || besmeared with sluttish time. - "Sonnet 55" by William Shakespeare
Or rather - || He passed Us - The Dews drew quivering and Chill - For only Gossamer, my Gown - My Tippet - || only Tulle - We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground - The Roof was scarcely visible - The Cornice - || in the Ground - Since then - || 'tis Centuries - || and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity - - "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson
If a writer’s purpose is to confuse or amuse, malapropism is just the tool. Malapropism intentionally misuses similar sounding words with different meanings, often nonsensical in context. This can convey confusion or agitation on behalf of a character: “she will meet you at the conception desk.” Remember, this is not making up new words or using words actually related in context; it is basically a mistake in speaking.
The business world is a doggy-dog world. You're all successories! I am not to be truffled with. Contraptions! She's contrapting! - Courtesey of The Office and Michael Scott
Do you have favorite lesser-known literary devices? Share in the comments!