Anadiplosis Uses Repetition. Repetition Confers Emphasis. Emphasis Creates Great Power.


yogurtRemarked many have on the ouroborotic properties of Yoda’s language, the way it forces listeners to circle back on his meaning like an R3 droid in reverse. But the Master also favors another rhetorical device: anadiplosis, or the “repetition of the last word or phrase from the previous line, clause, or sentence at the beginning of the next.” For instance, in The Phantom Menace, Yoda cautions Anakin Skywalker:“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The device confers emphasis, emphasis in the service of interconnection, interconnection flowing into escalation, escalation intimating endlessness, endlessness begetting—look, once the anadiplosis gets rolling, it’s hard to stop.

The word anadiplosis means, literally, a doubling or folding up. It is one of our most common rhetorical gestures, woven into the Bible (“Then, when lust has conceived, it bringeth forth sin. And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death”), political discourse (George W. Bush in an address to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001: “Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution”), poetry (“The mountains look on Marathon—And Marathon looks on the sea”), and the classics (From Gladiator: “They call for you: The general who became a slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied an Emperor.”)

The device must owe some popularity to its satisfying, musical repetitions. We love variation within logical structures; the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie children’s series depends on the delight of consequences unspooling rhythmically from a single action: If this, then that. If that, then THAT. But anadiplosis isn’t all singsong and counting games. Milton used it to announce the presence of a rarefied poetic force ordering words to heightened effect. “Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,” he wrote in his most famous elegy, the bell-like toll of dead less description than metaphor, suggestive of the way a grieving mind can worry terrible truths. At the same time, anadiplosis stitches clauses together, melting contiguity into continuity. The pathos of letting it extend the thought “Lycidas is dead,” so otherwise final, could not have escaped Milton.  

If registers of speech were dress codes, I’d clothe anadiplosis in “poetic-formal.” Poetic-formal because anadiplosis is stately—stately, in part, because it forces the prose to slow down. Back to the Bible: Peter urged his disciples to “make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.” The care and time implied in the construction of the sentence echoes the conscientiousness of Peter’s followers as they arrange their virtues into an edifice, an unshakable moral frame. Anadiplosis is about grand conclusions wrung from small beginnings. In so transparently revealing how ideas build on each other, the device offers something rare: the technique—the mechanics—of thought captured in language. It’s at once spontaneous and powerful: an organic crescendo. Intelligence refining itself as it goes.

Anadiplosis also carries a lot of momentum. Consider a DirecTV ad from 2012:

When your cable company keeps you on hold, you get angry. When you get angry, you go blow off steam. When you go blow off steam, accidents happen. When accidents happen, you get an eye patch. When you get an eye patch, people think you’re tough. When people think you’re tough, people want to see how tough. And when people want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch. Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch: Get rid of cable and upgrade to DIRECTV.

As Ron Burgundy might say, that escalated quickly. In addition to winding (straw) arguments about with incantatory force, anadiplosis is the Kevin Bacon game of rhetorical flourishes. Watch it connect past and future in a poem by Yeats, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death:

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

The supreme and otherworldly suspension of the lone pilot in the clouds finds an analogue in the stanza’s perfect balance. He weighs the years to come: a waste of breath. He weighs the ones that have fled: the same. And between past and future, an anadiplosis, a sense of redundancy and gathering, potential motion. Someone using this device is both stalling and building, careening forward and standing still. That duality of experience—inhabiting a frozen moment while being, tragically, a slave to time—is one subject of Yeats’ poem. Anadiplosis helps it land, even if the airman doesn’t. 

Source: Katy Waldman at slate.com