Word of the day – zeugma

A zeugma is a figure of speech that joins two or more clauses together in a way that allows you to omit the key verb or noun in all but one of the clauses. The word comes via Latin from the Greek ζεύγμα (zeugma) – yoke.

Here are examples of different kinds of zeugma:

Prozeugma or Synezeugmenon
The verb in the first part of this zeugma governs subsequent parts.

  • Some people like cats, some dogs, some crocodiles.
  • We ate octopus on Monday, camel on Tuesday and ostrich on Wednesday.
  • I speak sense, you nonsense.

In hypozeugmas the verb appear at the end of a number of clauses. This results in a sense of suspense in listeners and readers until they reach the end of the sentence.

  • Neither rain nor fog nor dragons will slow this knight on his quest.
  • Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)

A syllepsis joins clauses with different meanings together with a common verb, the meaning of which changes for each clauses. It can be used for comic effect due to the unusual connections and ambiguity involved.

  • She went home in a huff and a taxi.
  • I left my heart and my wallet in San Francisco.
  • Don’t forget to put out the cat and the lights before going to bed.
  • He had to eat his words and his lunch.

6 thoughts on “Word of the day – zeugma

  1. and there was I, blithely assuming that a syllepsis was simply the only class of zeugma. I feel profoundly shamed.

  2. Interesting post.
    I wonder if when translating from a source to a target language one might feel the need to change the type of zeugma used in one same sentence…
    Probably the last type would need to be changed, since there are collocations that exists in certain languages but make absolutely no sense in other languages …

  3. Just a little histpry note ^^ :
    ”ζεῦγμα” (from ζεύγνυμι) is from the sam root as Latin “iugum” and “iungo” and Bulgarian “иго” . And it seems to me that “yoke” comes from the same root as well.

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