What Is Antanaclasis?

Antanaclasis (derives from the Greek word antanáklasi meaning “reflection”, or “the act of a reflecting mind”), is a figure which consists in the repetition of a single word each time with a different meaning.

This figure is a device with a devious form of ambiguityOpens in new window, repeating a word in two contrasting senses to create a punOpens in new window. Ponder the following examples.

  1. “True eloquence takes no heed of eloquence, true morality takes no heed of morality.”

    — (Pascal)

  2. “O mortal man, think mortal thoughts!”

    — (Euripides)

  3. “The long cigarette that’s long on flavour.”

    — (ad for Pall Mall cigarettes)

As the preceding examples demonstrate, antanaclasis simply involves the repetition of homonymsOpens in new window (words with same spelling or sound but with different meanings) whereby in the second instance the meaning takes a different turn. In a literary context it is regarded as a word play, which shares similarity with its relative figure known as antistasisOpens in new window.

Other Examples of Antanaclasis

  1. In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.

    Explanation — At its first instance, “craft” is used to signify “vocation”; howerver, in the second instance, it means “fraud” or “cunning”.

  2. Your argument is sound...all sound.

    In this famous quote by Benjamin Franklin; “sound” in the first instance seemingly means “ideal” or “reasonable”. However, where it is repeated; it means a completely different sense a “mere sound” or “insensibility”.

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

    A quote by Vince Lombardi; here the repetition of the phrase seemingly means if a person does not invest the best possibly performance in his/her given specialty, the person might risk being criticized or even fired by those who wants nothing but the best.

  4. While we live, let us live.

    The sense here in the second occurrence seems to encourage us to be happy, positive minded, and enjoy life while we live; irrespective of the circumstances that life threw at us.

  5. Put out the light, then put out the light.

    In Shakespeare’s Othello. Expressed by Othello as he went into Desdemona's chamber while she sleeps, intending to murder her. The first instance—put the light out means he will quench the candle. But the second instance means he will end the life of Desdemona.

Antanaclasis often appears in dialogue, where a speaker takes up the words of the interlocutor and changes the meaning to his own advantage. Shakespeare often uses anatanaclasis in that way, as when Armado declares,

  1. By the North Pole, I challenge thee.”

    Costard replies, “I will not fight with a pole, like a Northern man. I’ll slash; I’ll do it by the sword” (Love’s Labor’s Lost. 5.2.699).

The reflection here merely involves the existing difference in the speaker's opinion.

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