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Polysyndeton and Asyndeton—Two words for the price of one this week. Isn’t that exciting and fun and interesting and educational?
First to the etymology. Poly, as you probably guessed, refers to many and a means not or without, so these two words are opposites of each other. The key part is syndeton from the Greek syndein which is comprised of syn (together) and dein (bind). So, polysyndeton translates as many binds together while asyndeton means not bound together.
In case you are concerned about what kind of bondage I am discussing here, let me clarify that we are talking grammar. Specifically, conjunctions, those little words that tie together different parts of a sentence.
So the classical Julius Caesar quote, “I came, I saw, I conquered” (Veni, vidi, vici in Latin) is an example of an asyndeton. My opening paragraph, with its many ands, is a polysyndeton.
Now that you know the terms, you may be wondering, “So what?” The purpose is a literary device to communicate a feeling to a reader. The clipped nature of asyndeton conveys a hurried, matter-of-fact tone. The polysyndeton, of course, has the opposite effect—it slows a reader to a deliberate, solemn pace.
How is that for a two-for-one special?
Interesting. I was thinking how I’d ever use it in a sentence, conversationally. 😉