In two words or fewer, name that term

Words can be flowery or technical, simple or complex, direct or convoluted. They are sometimes serious or may elicit humor. Some of those words fall into categories that may be called literary terms.

Possibly the oldest literary device is the "anaphora." There are two types, one of which omits words in order to avoid repetition (I like you as do they, omitting the second “like you”).

Another anaphoric example uses repetition purposely to make a point or create a mood. "Tale of Two Cities" begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

Many recall Mrs. Malaprop from “The Rivals” (1775), whose misplaced words spawned "malapropisms." Hers were often by mistake, but they are also sometimes created with purpose. Examples are: "danced the flamingo" (meaning flamenco); "U.S. and Canada are contagious countries" (meaning contiguous); "this evidence is auspicious" (meaning suspicious).

Another device that is sometimes an error and other times intentional is a "spoonerism." It is the transposing of letters or sounds, e.g., a crushing blow becomes a blushing crow; a pack of lies is a lack of pies; a foul beast becomes bowel feast.

An "anagram" is a fun brain teaser in which the letters of one or more words are used to form a new word or words. Hamlet was named for Amleth, a Danish prince; Clint Eastwood could be Old West Action, and George Bush becomes He bugs Gore. Some others include: debit card (bad credit); earthquakes (queer shakes); and Halley’s Comet (shall yet come). Anagrams can make fun party games.

Other games may be played creating one’s favorite "oxymoron," a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear together. Some possibilities are: clearly confused; Hell’s Angels; living dead; jumbo shrimp; seriously funny; and deafening silence.

Another brain challenge is building "palindromes," words or phrases that are spelled the same forward as backward. Some individual words include radar, racecar, kayak and madam. A few phrases in this category include: never odd or even; a man, a plan, a canal: Panama; and red rum, sir, is murder. Note that punctuation doesn’t count.

Have yourself some workout fun with words, a very inexpensive fitness tool.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at

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