Most of us learned about metaphor, simile, and personification in junior high. Alliteration, the repetition of initial sounds, is also a pretty familiar concept. But do you know about anaphora (a-NAF-er-a)? This is repetition of initial words in a series of phrases or sentences. A prime example occurs in The Beatitutes in the biblical book of Matthew. Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; Blessed are the meek . . ." And so on. With this construction, we can't fail to notice that all of the people mentioned are blessed, blessed, blessed.
Then there's the opposite: epistrophe (ee-PIS-tro-fee). Here the repetition of words is at the end of the phrases or sentences. Again, the Bible gives a well known example: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." The result is that the reader grasps the important concept that love overcomes all things.
Now here's a cool word -- epizeuxis (eh-pi-ZOOK-sis). This is simply the repetition of one word for emphasis, which means it's not that hard to be able to claim, "Look, I've used epizeuxis!" For example: "Alone, alone, all all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
A less highbrow use that comes to mind is the real estate industry's "Location, location, location."
Finally, let's look at antimetabole (an-tee-meh-TAH-bo-lee), which repeats the words in a given phrase in reverse order. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." "We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing" (Benjamin Franklin). I really like the "food for thought" quality of this device. Antimetabole seeks to show just how often our thinking is the opposite of what is sensible, helpful and true. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (John F. Kennedy). "You can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy."
These four devices dealing with the effects of repetition are only the tip of the rhetorical iceberg. For writers, there's such richness in both story-craft and word-craft. The funny thing is, inadvertent repetition can sound clunky and boring, but purposeful, crafted repetition sounds strong, clarifies meaning, and gives our readers that resonance we want them to take away from our work. Do you have any favorite rhetorical devices?