This post is part of a series on rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.
Origin: From the Greek σύλληψις (sillipsis) meaning to take together.
In plain English: When one word—often a verb—is used in two different ways, or applied to two different things.
- It’s a clever play on words that surprises and thus catches our attention.
- In its simplest form, syllepsis is a pun.
- According to Mark Forsyth in The Elements of Eloquence, the advantages of syllepsis are also its failings. “Syllepsis makes the reader astonished and go back to check what the word was and how it’s working now. It’s terribly witty, but it’s terribly witty in a look-at-me-aren’t-I-witty sort of way. There’s a sense in which it’s a cheap thrill.”
- It is closely related to zeugma.
“Vegetarianism is harmless enough, though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness.”
— Sir Robert Hutchinson, Address to the British Medical Association, 1930
“It’s a small apartment. I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends.”
— Dorothy Parker
— Anti-war slogan associated with the American counter-culture in the 1960s
— The Rolling Stones, Honky Tonk Woman
— Alanis Morissette, Head Over Feet
— Margaret Atwood, Rules for Writers, The Guardian, 22 February 2010