The Ancient Art of Advocacy Logo

Syllepsis

sil-lep'-sis / From Greek: syn, "together" and lepsis, "taking"
Also spelt: sillepsis, silepsis, syllempsis
Also known as: conceptio, conglutinata conceptio, concepcio, double supply, change in concord

When a single word that governs or modifies two or more others must be understood differently with respect to each of those words. A combination of grammatical parallelism and semantic incongruity, often with a witty or comical effect. Not to be confused with zeugma.

Note: Originally, syllepsis named that grammatical incongruity resulting when a word governing two or more others could not agree with both or all of them; for example, when a singular verb serves as the predicate to two subjects, singular and plural ("His boat and his riches is sinking"). In the rhetorical sense, syllepsis has more to do with applying the same single word to the others it governs in distinct senses (e.g., literal and metaphorical); thus, "His boat and his dreams sank."

Examples:

In the following example, "rend" governs both objects, but the first rending is figurative; the second, literal:

Rend your heart, and not your garments. Joel 2:13

You held your breath and the door for me
—Alanis Morissette

"Fix the problem, not the blame." —Dave Weinbaum
The verb "fix" governs both "problem" and "blame." In its first instance, "fix" means "solve," but this verb shifts its meaning when applied to its second object, where the understood "fix" = "assign."

You are not authorised to post comments.

Acknowledgement

The above information on individual rhetorical techniques is reproduced from the website “Silva Rhetoricae” (www.rhetoric.byu.edu ) under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence. Credit for this content lies with Professor Gideon O Burton of Brigham Young University.