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In a sentence describing two people dancing in a room:

And they reeled, and swiveled, and whirled, and spun ...

What are the differences between those four actions?

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closed as general reference by Mitch, tchrist, kiamlaluno, MετάEd, Matt E. Эллен Aug 13 '12 at 9:11

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What did the dictionary say? – tchrist Aug 12 '12 at 21:44
up vote 7 down vote accepted

In other contexts it might be important to distinguish the meanings, but this is an obvious instance of the rhetorical figure synonymia - the author is enhancing his effect by piling on different words to denote a circular dance. Given the alternating anapaests and iambs, I suspect this is verse – even if it isn't, the author is very skillfully employing rhythm for further enhancement.

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When you add alternating anapaests and iambs to all that reeling, and swivelling, and whirling and spinning, I think it becomes an extreme sport. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '12 at 22:02
@EdwinAshworth Certainly anapest, anapest, anapest, trochee. / anapest, anapest, anapest, trochee. / anapest, anapest, anapest, trochee. / anapest anapest trochee. kept the Lone Ranger in shape. – tchrist Aug 12 '12 at 22:06
@tchrist Yes - he was often seen at masked balls. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '12 at 22:18
@tchrist Well, since you guys have covered Rossini and Verdi, I guess to have ask if he was escorting the Girl of the Golden West? – StoneyB Aug 12 '12 at 22:47

I forget who said, "All words are infinitely polysemous," but it's probably also true that 'No words are truly synonymous.' As StoneyB says above, the author is taking liberties with the semantics of the sentence to achieve an admirable rhythmic effect.

Coincidentally, I said to someone today, "I must be careful not to waltz off with the key." I then thought of possible substitutes for waltz in the pretty transparent idiom, and decided that I couldn't think of any that are actually used. (Apparently, the shuffle is a type of dance.) There are some amusing candidates - tango, foxtrot, conga, jive, passacaglia, slosh....

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'sashay' seems to be used interchangeably with 'waltz' and is originally dialect for chassée. -- how do I delete that failure? – StoneyB Aug 12 '12 at 22:41
Absolutely right. Language doesn't have any use for two words that are exactly the same; there's always contexts where you use one and not the other for some particular effect. – John Lawler Aug 12 '12 at 22:45
@JohnLawler Or, as in the original question, use many for some general effect. – StoneyB Aug 12 '12 at 22:48
Rereduduplication, it's called in the trade. – John Lawler Aug 12 '12 at 22:57
@JohnLawler Do I remember (well, clearly I've forgotten, but ...) that there's a special term for a word which is itself an instance of what it names? 'Rereduplication' would seem to fit. – StoneyB Aug 12 '12 at 23:36

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