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Understanding Antanaclasis: Definition, Functions and Examples

Antanaclasis is a literary device that can make your writing more humorous and compelling. Its effect is evident in memorable quotes and slogans. And in literature, they can create striking and funny statements that make an idea remarkable. In this article, we examine the definition and functions of this literary device, illustrated with many notable examples.

What is antanaclasis?

Antanaclasis is a literary device where you repeat a word or phrase within a sentence, but each repetition holds a different meaning. It comes from the Greek word, antanáklasis, meaning "reflection." A fantastic example of this literary device is a quote from Benjamin Franklin, which was purportedly spoken during the signing of the Declaration of Independence: 

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” 

In this statement, Franklin repeats the word “hang” with two separate meanings: in the first, “hang” is a phrasal verb, meaning to stay together, and in the second, it is the verb, meaning to be killed by hanging.

Effects of antanaclasis

Antanaclasis can help writers create a variety of effects. It produces a humorous effect, sparking an ironic play on words that readers may find funny. Consider this quote from Benjamin Franklin: 

"Your argument is sound, nothing but sound."

Here, each "sound" has different meanings: the first means the argument is solid and valid, and the second means it is nothing but noise. And this usage is humorous, especially when readers consider the implication of the second instance of the repeated word.

Antanaclasis creates catchphrases, which are memorable for readers. This is why it features in many slogans and advertisements. A good example is this expression in a coke advertisement in 1954:

"People on the go... go for Coke."

 Another marvelous example is the slogan of Vidal Sassoon hairdresser:

“If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”

Antanaclasis creates witty repetition that gives power to memorable refrains and chorus. An example is in the song, Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder:

"Just because a record has a groove, don't make it in the groove."

Antanaclasis also creates emphasis and helps writers convey an idea effectively and remarkably. Like American football coach Vince Lombardi told his team:

"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm."

Examples of antanaclasis in literature

Here are more examples of antanaclasis from William Shakespeare:

1. William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1603). "HAMLET: There’s another. Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillities, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel and will not tell him of his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be in ’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries. Is this the fine of his fines and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box, and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?"

2. William Shakespeare, Henry V (1600). "PISTOL: Doth Fortune play the huswife with me now? News have I, that my Nell is dead i’ the spital Of malady of France; And there my rendezvous is quite cut off. Old I do wax; and from my weary limbs, Honour is cudgelled. Well, bawd I’ll turn, And something lean to cutpurse of quick hand. To England will I steal, and there I’ll steal: And patches will I get unto these cudgell’d scars, And swear I got them in the Gallia wars."

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen