I'm looking for a technical term to describe a rhetorical device. The device I have in mind is when multiple examples are used to support a claim. (See the addendum for specific instances.)

My criteria for the ideal term:

The closest I've found is exemplum, which Richard A. Harris defines as:

citing an example; using an illustrative story, either true or fictitious

WP says:

An exemplum ... is a moral anecdote, brief or extended, real or fictitious, used to illustrate a point.

I am leery of using exemplum because of ambiguity. If I use its plural form exempla: Do I mean multiple instances of exemplum strung together as one thought, or multiple instances of exemplum (each potentially illustrating their own point) in one or more speeches? I want to describe the former but not the latter.

Is there a more specific, technical term for what I want to describe?


The device I want to describe is used in the song Like Animals from the musical Doctor Doolittle. Dr. Doolittle backs his claim "We create [animals'] wretched status, then we use it to malign them" with:

I mean,

Why should we say, “treated like a dog,”

Why should we say, “working like a horse,”

Why should we say, “eating like a hog,”

When what we mean is “eating like a man”?

Don’t we? Of course!

A man of ill repute is called a “weasel” or a “rat,”

A woman you dislike becomes a “vixen” or a “cat,”

A family that is blessed

With healthy reproductive habits

Occasions the remark,

"Well you know them, they “breed like rabbits”!

“He’s as stubborn as a mule!”

“He’s as stupid as an ox!”

“He’s as slimy as a snake!”

“He’s as crafty as a fox!”

Remarks like that really get my goat!

Another musical example could be Pirates of Penzance's Major-General Stanley, who provides us ample reason why we ought to think he is the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.

(If I remember right, Oh, The Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Suess, which provides its reader with "thinks" to think about, also falls into the category I want to describe.)

Similarly, web-comic xkcd uses snapshots of online Q&A sites to show to suggest where birds go when it rains is "the universal question."

It is also used in serious rhetoric. The New Testament chapter Hebrews 11 presents case studies of Old Testament figures and provides brief descriptions of how they showed their faith.

The device has also been used recently on ELU Meta. To support the claim that craftsmanship is not a gendered term, user tchrist says:

As far as I can see, the answer is correct, because craftsmanship really is no more a gendered term than manikin is, whatever their origins. We don’t need a new word for manikins in store windows sporting women’s lingerie, either, and it is a fallacy to think that we somehow ought to do that. A manikin is just manikin; it is not a man any longer, not even a wee one.

That’s the sort of thing that leads to nonsense like forbidding the use of alternate or between for more than two choices, or avoiding inculcate or connotation because they might appear to contain a somewhat rude word-element (well, if French) inside them, or being afraid to use seminal for ideas unrelated to procreation.

Nobody expects unmanned drones to be carrying women in them, either. A “gay-rights” campaign against the Canadian practice of buying homo milk would be similarly misguided, just as one driven by a bunch of troglodytes to rename the genus of Homo sapiens to something more all-inclusive of women like Pan sapiens would be.

1 Answer 1


I think what you are looking for is exergasia. (Synonyms: exargasia, epexergasia, expolitio, expolicio, refining, working out)

Repetition of the same idea, changing either its words, its delivery, or the general treatment it is given. A method for amplification, variation, and explanation. As such, exergasia compares to the progymnasmata exercises.


Examples from Wikipedia article:

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I Have a Dream" Speech says

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy;
now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice;
now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood;
now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.

The idea of correcting injustice is repeated in all four lines to emphasize this idea.

Shakespeare also utilizes exergasia. In The Winter's Tale, the character Florizel says

I take thy hand, this hand
As soft as dove's down, and as white as it,
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fanned snow that's bolted
By th' northern blasts twice o'er (IV.iv.360-363).

Florizel calls the hand white in three different ways: comparing it to dove's down, an Ethiopian's tooth, and snow.

Etymology: from Gk. ex, "out" and ergon, "work" (a "working out") or ergazomai "to work"

Further details:http://rhetfig.appspot.com/

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