A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Wordplay: Five Zany-sounding Literary Devices


These are some fun words about words. Enjoy!



Litotes is an understatement using the opposite negative. It’s something we use all the time in everyday sarcasm.

Example: “He’s not the smart person in the world,” meaning he’s dumb.

Literary example: in Beowulf, a description of the horrible place where Grendel lives is “That is not a pleasant place.”

The word litotes comes from Greek and means “plain” or “simple.”



This one’s a bit more complex. A zeugma is an expression in which one word relates to two other words but in different ways.

Example: “Kiss the girl, or the chance goodbye.” (“Kiss” plays a double role here.)

Literary example from Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (slightly modified): “He was alternately whipping his brains and his donkey.”

The word zeugma in Greek means “yoking.”

I love zeugmas. =)


A kenning is simply a poetic description used instead of a simple noun.

Kennings are not used in literature today, but were a major feature of Old English literature like Beowulf.

For example, in Beowulf:

  • A ship with its sails raised is a “foamy-necked floater”
  • The ocean is the “whale-road”
  • A battle is a “storm of swords”

These kennings then repeat throughout the work and take the place of the simple nouns.



You use metonymy when you replace the exact term for something with the term for something else that’s commonly associated with it. The word in Greek means “a change of name.”


“Hollywood has never seen this before.” (Hollywood, the town, is used to mean the film industry.)

“I read a lot of John Grisham and David Baldacci.” (The authors’ names are used to refer to their books.)

“The British crown” referring to the monarchy


(KI-as-mus or KEE-as-mus)

A chiasmus makes a criss-cross pattern with words or thoughts. The word derives from the Greek term for the letter X.


“Her heart was hungry, and her appetite was hearty.”

“When the time comes to decide, your decision will come in time.”

 A literary example I like is from Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”


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This entry was posted on August 15, 2013 by in Discoveries from Learning and tagged , , .
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