This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nuts and Bolts: syllepsis or zeugma.

Syllepsis is good fun as long as you're not bothered that no one is knows what it is, or whether or not it's actually a zeugma.

The basic idea in both is that one word is used in two different senses.

But, you will say, hold the page and your horses! In that case, which is a zeugma and which is a syllepsis?

Well, the term zeugma is used more commonly and begins rather thrillingly with a z. Syllepsis is a nice, slithery word. I suggest you take your pick and enjoy some examples.

'I just blew my nose, a fuse, and three circuit breakers.' That's from the Jim Henson Hour.
'[H]e was alternately cudgelling his brains and his donkey when, passing the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate.' Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.

'She lowered her standards by raising her glass,/Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.' Flanders and Swann, Have Some Madeira, M'Dear.

Here's a very old one:
'Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,/Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.'  Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock.
And a new one:
'You held your breath and the door for me.' Alanis Morissette, Head over Feet.
There are also examples of zeugma or syllepsis that aren't at all amusing, or even really noticeable.
But I'll fear I'll lose patience and your attention if I go into those.
Thing To Use Today: zeugma. Or syllepsis. Well, it's something to think about at bus stops. The word zeugma is Greek and comes from zeugnunai, to yoke; and syllepsis is also Greek, from lambanein, to take.


  1. Very clever!

    I never have understood the difference between the two, so before I try to again, and lose my grip, and possibly my mind, I'll say ta-ra for now!

    1. There comes a point when leaving the experts alone to argue is the only sensible thing to do.

  2. Sally - you held my interest and my hand as I took baby-steps through and knowledge from this wonderful post.

    How was that?

    1. Superb, Ed, thank you. But then flattery will always get you noticed, agreed-with - and anywhere.