What Are Polysyndeton and Asydeton?
Polysyndeton and asydeton are two opposite rhetorical devices for handling the items in a list.
- Polysyndeton uses the conjunction "and" to separate each item, like so: We went to the garden, and it was hard to dig the soil, and we got mud on our pants, and we felt that we were getting nowhere fast. Polysyndeton may also take the form of several sentences beginning with the conjunction "and."
- Asydeton creates a list without the use of "and": We planted onions, cabbage, potatoes, leeks. Asydeton may also occur in a string of short, stylistically similar sentences without linking conjunctions.
Both devices are commonly used in both literature and in speeches and film dialogue.
How Do You Identify Polysyndetons and Asydetons in Writing?
The devices are mainly stylistic. Polysyndeton slows down narrative prose, creating a grand, almost epic cadence that is well suited to rhetorics of endurance and hardship. It’s no accident that polysyndeton often occurs in Biblical texts, for instance.
Asydeton, on the other hand, speeds up the cadence and creates more of a matter-of-fact tone. One feels that the speaker is deliberately compressing time or leaving things out, creating an impression that they are capable of doing so many things that there is no point in elaborating. Asydeton assumes detachment from the process, while polysyndeton lingers on the subject, giving each item importance.
Examples of Polysyndeton and Asydeton
1. In Othello, Iago’s speech uses asydeton: "Call up her father./Rouse him. Make after him, Poison his delight,/Proclaim him in the streets."
2. Othello also contains this example of polysyndeton: "If there be cords, or knives, /Poison, or fire, or suffocating streams, /I’ll not endure it."
3. This instance of polysyndeton comes from the Bible: "And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had.”
4. William F. Buckley used polysyndeton in a speech: "In years gone by, there were in every community men and women who spoke the language of duty and morality and loyalty and obligation."
5. "I came, I saw, I conquered" is a famous example of asydeton by Julius Caesar.
6. "The air was thick, warm, heavy, slugglish," from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a good example of asydeton.
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