A quote from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss lists

"actors and acrobats, musicians and hand magicians, jugglers and jesters"

My first thought on reading it was that "hand magicians and musicians" (ABAB) would have a more quippish tone than "musicians and hand magicians" (ABBA), but upon reflection I decided that such a phrasing would be too singsong, whereas the inversion feels more cleverly poetical to me.

Is there a literary term for the inverted repetition of similar sounds? I've come up with ABBA internal rhyme or with chiastic parallelism, but I'm wondering if there's a single word that describes this pattern better.

  • 2
    I'm not sure what you mean with inverted repetition. How can you define that a repetition is inverted? Can you tell me which of these two series is inverted? AAAA or AAAA. They are both repetitions. If you tell me which is inverted (and why), I'll come up with a word for it :)
    – oerkelens
    Aug 13, 2014 at 14:32
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    @orkelens: and rhymes with hand, and musicians rhymes/alliterates with magicians. So "hand magicians and musicians" is ABAB, while "musicians and hand magicians" is ABBA. Now, what's the word? :) Aug 13, 2014 at 14:45
  • @PeterShor - I asked the OP, but I will indulge you... I have to admit I missed the hand/and rhyme. Taking that into account, we have rhyme, it is internal, and the crossing (1st rhymes with 4th, 2nd with 3rd) would make it chiastic. So chiastic internal rhyme would be a close description. Looking for one word, since it was already identified as internal rhyme, just adding chiastic would do. It's not much, so I'll leave it as a comment, not an answer.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 13, 2014 at 16:23

1 Answer 1


The single-word name for what you're describing is just "chiasmus".

Though most narrowly used to indicate the repetition in an ABBA pattern of a pair of words or phrases (e.g., "Fair is foul and foul is fair), it can be used of an ABBA pattern of sounds as well, as this definition from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (4th ed., s.v. "chiasmus") indicates:

"The repetition of a pair of sounds, words, phrases, or ideas in the reverse order, producing an abba structure."

  • Chiasmus is a hypernym of the word I'm looking for (if the word even exists). I already suggested "chiastic parallelism" in my question. Thanks for the Princeton Encyclopedia reference though; I hadn't heard chiasmus used to refer to sounds.
    – 3nafish
    Aug 13, 2014 at 17:17
  • 3nafish: how is what you're looking for more specific? I can't tell the difference.
    – Mitch
    Aug 14, 2014 at 15:21
  • @Mitch, I'm looking for a term that means a reversed pairing specifically of sounds. Chiasmus is usually used to refer to a larger reversal of sentence structure rather than individual sounds. (Dictionary.com gives the example "He went to the country, to the town went she.")
    – 3nafish
    Aug 14, 2014 at 16:54
  • If 'chiasmus' is too specific for you because it doesn't mean only the reversal of sounds, then you should consider something like 'phonetic chiasmus'.
    – Wapiti
    Jun 21, 2016 at 4:16

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