Rhetorical Devices: Polysyndeton

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Polysyndeton

Origin: From the Greek πολυσύνδετος (polysyndetos), meaning “bound together”.

In plain English: The repetition of conjunctions such as “and”, “or”, “for” and “but” in close succession, especially when most of them could be replaced with a comma. Compare: “He is brave and honest and good and decent.” with “He is brave, honest, good and decent.”

Effect:

  • The repetition of the conjunctions adds power to the other words.
  • Polysyndeton slows down the pace of the sentence.
  • It can add rhythm and cadence to a sentence or series of sentences.
  • There is a feeling that the ideas are being built up.

Notes:

  • Polysyndeton is structural opposite of asyndeton.
  • The first video below cannot be embedded, but can be watched on YouTube.

Examples:

“But all you have to do is knock on any door and say, ‘If you let me in, I’ll live the way you want me to live, and I’ll think the way you want me to think,’ and all the blinds’ll go up and all the windows will open, and you’ll never be lonely, ever again.”

— Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind (1960)

———

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward — BACKWARD! — through the glorious ages of that sixteenth century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind.”

— Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind (1960)

———

“Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war — not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars.”     

— Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968)

———

“In years gone by, there were in every community men and women who spoke the language of duty and morality and loyalty and obligation.”

— William F. Buckley

———

“It’s got awesome security. And the right apps. It’s got everything from Cocoa and the graphics and it’s got core animation built in and it’s got the audio and video that OSX is famous for. It’s got all the stuff we want.”

— Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007 Keynote Address

About John Zimmer

I am passionate about public speaking and helping others improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
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3 Responses to Rhetorical Devices: Polysyndeton

  1. Pingback: “It’s Halftime in America” — An Analysis | Manner of Speaking

  2. Pingback: “It’s Halftime in America” — An Analysis | Manner of Speaking

  3. Pingback: Rhetorical Devices: Asyndeton | Manner of Speaking

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