On spontaneous pleonasms and other devices - The Pickering Group

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On spontaneous pleonasms and other devices

Riddle time! What sounds like a disease, but makes people want to get closer to you? Literally any rhetorical device. Many can make your written and spoken language more engaging, some we should be wary of, and some we should avoid. But one thing's for sure - whoever named them had some serious issues. Let’s take a look at some of the fun and weird ones.
A favourite of Donald Trump *rolls eyes*, this means raising an issue by claiming not to mention it: ‘I’m not even going to talk about Greg’s mishap with the stapler’.  This is a good one to spark interest in your audience because everyone loves a mystery.  Intrigued minds immediately set to work imagining what Greg might have done with the stapler.  His character is ruined far more quickly than if the facts had been laid bare. The unethical amongst you might try to use Apophasis to blacken your competitor’s name without any chance of it coming back to bite, because you never said anything actionable...hmmm...sound familiar?  Note: don’t confuse Apophasis with Apophysis, which means the bit of an organism that expands or protrudes. Right, Greg? 
One to avoid. The name is gross, but it just means using more words than necessary. It comes from the Greek verb pleonazein, which means ‘to be excessive’. That’s a verb we need to reclaim for when Sandra from HR is pleonazeining again.  We can use this device for emphasis if we’re careful: ‘I saw it with my own eyes’ is a pleonasm.  So is ‘Free Gift’. In fact, the difference between a tautology and a pleonasm is whether it’s being used deliberately for emphasis or just a mistake.  If you’re having accidental pleonasms please see your doctor.

Many words have opposites we don’t use, but really should because they’re fun. Gruntled. Ravelled. Whelmed. Dysphemism is the opposite of euphemism. It means to use a nasty expression in place of a nice one.  Trump likes this one too, as ‘Sleepy Joe’ knows to his chagrin. Calling a cheap café a Greasy Spoon. Calling the dentist the Murder House.  Calling Greg the Stapler Pervert.  See? Fun.


Repeating a phrase with a parallel phrase but in reverse order, creating a deeper sense of the phrase’s meaning. It makes your words feel satisfyingly complete, the style filling in for any missing details. All for one and one for all! Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country! You can take the girl out of Dargaville, but not the Dargaville out of the girl! Take the stapler away from Greg or take Greg away from the stapler! 
Get Familiar

Knowing the names of rhetorical devices may seem a bit unnecessary – generally we know them when we see them without needing to be introduced. But when you spend a little personal time with them, you can begin to consciously work together.  They like it and so will you.  Even if you don’t incorporate any of these to make your language more persuasive, they’re an excellent reference list for when you need to call in sick but already used up your go-to illnesses. A case of dysphemism or a nasty chiasmus can get you a duvet day without any awkward questions.  Of course, Greg is on stapler leave for the foreseeable future, but we won’t talk about that.

Let’s Talk About You Instead

Don’t forget, we’re here for you. Sharpen your rhetoric with our presentation skills & public speaking courses. We can come to you (in person or virtually) with bespoke options. Or check out our tips and tricks page or follow us on LinkedIn. If you enjoy our emails, feel free to share them. Or keep them to yourself, so you can really liven up your next meeting with a surprise pleonasm.

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