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This lesson is in a pattern book. I want to know why the word about is repeated quite a few times in the text:

My mother told me stories about cooking and childbearing; she told me stories about menstruation and pregnancy; she told me stories about gods and heroes, about fairies and elves, about goddesses and spirits; she told me stories about the land and the sky, about cats and dogs, about...

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  • about here is the essential anchor that holds "My mother told me stories" to each of the elements of the significance, diversity and large amount of parental wisdom described in the rest of the paragraph. This is nothing specific to the English language but to writing technique. You could probably ask such questions on writersSE.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 11:22

2 Answers 2

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We could say that the writer is using anaphora, a rhetorical device defined by repetition of words or phrases in neighboring clauses or sentences that adds emphasis through repetition. In the passage in question, the repetition of "about" (more specifically "she told me stories about") could be emphasizing the many and various stories the girl's mother told her over the years.

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  • The text can generally do without the anaphoric repetitions without losing the basic meaning, or even grammaticality. This case is not quite so, here the about is essential to the meaning. See examples in the reference you cited.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 11:27
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    The first "about" is essential; every succeeding one is purely to convey an effect or to suggest a different sub category of stories.
    – tylerharms
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 12:01
  • Try it yourself.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 13:42
  • "My mother told me stories about cooking and childbearing; menstruation and pregnancy; gods and heroes, fairies and elves, goddesses and spirits; the land and the sky, cats and dogs, about..." I've edited my answer to include "she told me stories", but I still don't think it changes the way repetition is being used.
    – tylerharms
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 13:50
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    Anaphora just means 'the use of pronouns'. It doesn't describe this structure, which is produced by Conjunction Reduction. Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 15:03
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There are quite a few categories listed, and two sub-categories are given for each. Probably the clearest formatting would be:

My mother told me stories about

  • cooking and childbearing

.....

  • menstruation and pregnancy

.....

  • gods and heroes

  • fairies and elves

  • goddesses and spirits

.....

  • the land and the sky

  • cats and dogs

    ...

But this would not necessarily be the most desirable style in a flowing narrative.

An alternative would be:

My mother told me stories about cooking, childbearing, menstruation, pregnancy, gods, heroes, fairies, elves, goddesses, spirits, the land, the sky, cats, dogs ...

But this would be too compressed, not structured enough to be acceptable – the other extreme.

A compromise is:

My mother told me stories about cooking and childbearing; menstruation and pregnancy; gods and heroes; fairies and elves; goddesses and spirits; the land and the sky; cats and dogs; ...

This uses semicolons as 'super commas' to separate the major categories in the list. Some may object to this usage of semicolons (others accept it), but using commas instead does not clearly demarcate major categories.

Using repeats of

; she told me stories about

and

, about

to demarcate major categories, as Ms Allen does, is a grammatical, and, in my opinion, most elegant choice here. She even seems to manage to indicate major, mid-level and low-level categorisation (; she told me stories about = a super-super comma; , about = a super comma).

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