Figures of Speech | #1 | Chiasmus
Chiasmus | As a figure of speech
“Chiasmus comes from the Greek “chiasm” meaning “X”; or diagonal.
Chiasmus is a rhetorical device, literally meaning “to shape like the letter Χ”, is a “reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses – but no repetition of words”.
This speech follows a diagonal structure.
For instance, the following sentence from Socrates, 5th Century B.C.
“Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.”
Let’s break this down into:
1. parts in the sentence
2. arguments (X & Y) in the sentence.
Break-Up #1 | The Parts in the Sentence
Break-Up #2 | The Arguments in the Sentence
X = type of men | Y = their purpose
“X do (something) so that they Y, whereas X do Y that they get something else.”
As per www.literarydevices.net, we should notice that the second half of this sentence is an inverted form of the first half, both grammatically and logically. What must also be noticed that this reversal was achieved without repeating the words across both parts of the sentence.
- Chiasmus should not be confused for antimetabole, which also involves a reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses, but unlike chiasmus, it presents a repetition of words in an X-Y-Y-X configuration.
- E.g. “Live to eat; or eat to live.” would be the antimetabole way of saying the same thing, as it involves repetition of words in an X-Y-Y-X format
- “By day the frolic, and the dance by night.” — Samuel Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1794)
- “Despised, if ugly; if she’s fair, betrayed.” — Mary Leapor, “Essay on Woman” (1751)
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