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Symploce

Pronounced /ˈsɪmpləsiː/Help with pronunciation

You get three unusual words in one this week, because symploce is a combination of anaphora and epistrophe.

The first of these has more than one sense; in this case it refers to an oratorical device by which the first words of a section of prose are repeated. Hillary Clinton’s speech to the 1996 Democratic National Convention is a good example: “To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family; it takes teachers; it takes clergy; it takes business people; it takes community leaders; it takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.”

In epistrophe the repetition occurs at the end of phrases. One of the best-known examples is in Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address in which he speaks of government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Another appears in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the King James’s Bible: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.”

With symploce, the repetition occurs at both the beginnings and the ends of lines. A much-quoted example is in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of 1955, Gift from the Sea: “Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid, each cycle of the wave is valid, each cycle of a relationship is valid.”

All three words derive from Greek, though not altogether obviously. Anaphora combines ana-, back, with pherein, to bear (in other words, to repeat); epistrophe is from epistrephein, to turn around; symploce derives from symplekein, to weave together.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 19 Mar. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 19 March 2005.