Rhetorical Devices I
Bill Long 11/23/04
Antanaclasis and Antanagoge
It seems like we are retreating into obscurity and irrelevance very quickly by studying rhetorical devices that don't even exist in most English language dictionaries. But I think the discipline is helpful. Just as a coach will have cross country runners train by running 9 miles a day/6 days a week to be ready for a three-mile competition, so I think it is helpful to stretch ourselves to learn hundreds of these terms and their applications so that we will be ready for our own verbal "competitons." The point is very important: we can learn the habit of eloquence. Once we learn these terms, we will discover, possibly to our surprise, that we are exercising care that we didn't think possible in the selection of words. We will be repaid with rhetoric's greatest gift: elegance of expression.
Most rhetorical guides mention this term. Derived from two Greek words meaning "to bend back" or "bend against," and originally meaning the "reflection of light," antanaclasis already had a rhetorical meaning in Greek antiquity: "use of a word in an altered sense." Quintilian picks up this usage in Book IX of his Orator by equating antanaclasis with contraria significatio. Quintilian introduces the term in connection with what he calls "Figures which appeal to the ear." He begins by introducing paronomasia, which we know as a pun--the repetition of either the same word or similar-sounding words in different meanings in the same sentence. Then he introduces antanaclasis, where the "same word" is "used in contrary meanings (9.3.68)." In short, we may say that antanaclasis is "same word, different sense," while paronomasia is "similar-sounding word, different sense."
Let's consider four examples, all of which I have gleaned from Internet and book sources. (1) "While we live, let us live." [That is, while we exist or draw breath, let's live life to the fullest] (2) From the Scriptures: "That Abraham against hope believed in hope" [I suppose the first use of "hope" is akin to "hopelessness"] (3) From the fertile mind of Shakespeare, who is able to use both paronomasia and antanaclasis in the same sentence. Falstaff says to Prince Hal in I Henry IV, I.ii: "Were it not here apparent that thou art heir apparent....(4) From the kick-ass legendary football coach Vince Lombardi comes a very difficult to execute (like a 3.6 degree of difficulty!) antanaclastic phrase : "If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm!"
The appeal and difficulty of antanaclasis should be immediately apparent, even if it isn't heir apparent. It is, in the first instance, an expression of verbal cleverness but it also immediately impresses the hearer with a sense of the intelligence and wisdom of the speaker. A crowd that laughs with the speaker or is verbally entertained with intelligent wit, which antanaclasis usually provides, is more apt to be persuaded. Antanaclasis appeals to us because we know that meaning is a slippery thing; antanaclasis plays on this awareness without saying "meaning is a slippery thing." It provides the occasion for precision and, at the same time, reminds us that words have a multiplicity of meanings.
Another word that will never make it on the ten-best-dressed words or most-likely-words-to-be-asked-on-a-date is antanagoge. The verb "antanago" means to "lead up against" or "attack" and was especially used in Greek antiquity in naval contexts. One would put the ships to sea against someone and the verb used would be "antanago." The OED and the Century Dictionary each have one meaning for the term, but unfortunately these definitions are not the same and are perhaps incompatible. For example, the Century Dictionary defines antanagoge as "a figure which consists in replying to an adversary by recrimination, as when, the accusation made by one party being unanswerable, the accused person charges his accuser with the same or some other crime." Thus, if antanagoge were to be used in this sense it would be accusing your wife, who just caught you with another woman, of herself being unfaithful.
But both the OED and the leading popular brief textbook on the subject, Lanham's A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, define antanagoge as follows: "Ameliorating a fault or difficulty implicitly admitted by balancing an unfavorable aspect with a favorable one," such as in the example, "A mighty maze but not without a plan." Another example of antanagoge would be "He forgets my birthday, but he brings me presents all year round."
The meaning of antanagoge in terms of what one might call verbal compensation or amelioration is highlighted most powerfully in Puttenham's Poesie of 1589. He calls it the Recompencer. We should understand the context, however, in which Puttenham considers it. He first gives illustrations of sentences in which the meaning first put forward is negated in the second part, and calls it the repentant. Then he introduces "another manner of speech much like to the repentant," with the difference that it does not "recant or unsay a word that hath been said before, putting another fitter in his place, but having spoken anything to deprave the matter or partie, he denieth it not, but as it were helpeth it againe by another more favourable speach: and so seemeth to make amends, for which cause it is called by the originall name in both languages, the Recompenser (p. 180 of the 1589 edtion)."
He gives two examples, which will end our essay. On the one hand, antanagoge can be used where a speaker tries to "amend" a harsh-sounding statement: "I must needs say, that my wife is a shrewe; But such a huswife as I know but a fewe." Then, antanagoge can reverse a "faine commendation" as in the following: "The Courtiers life full delicate it is, But where no wise man will ever set his blis."
Thus, we have two new and genuine friends in antanaclasis and antanagoge. The first is akin to a pun and leaves the hearer thinking you are very smart. The second is a means of "amending" a first part of a sentence, which can be very useful to aid the audience to develop a more positive appreciation of what you say. Our hearts and minds are being deepened as we patiently work through the rhetorical figures.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long