What is the name of this literary saying? People use this figure of speech in order to express a wide coverage or variety of a certain class, such as vegetable species available in a market for purchase or animals on display at a zoo. However, would it not make more sense to reference two things with as distant first letters as possible, (like the saying "from A to Z") as opposed to using the same first letter? What logic lies behind this figure of speech?


What motivated me to ask the question was actually an advertisement I heard on the radio for a clinic that treats "bronchitis to back problems" and "sciatica to sore throats," if I remember the exact illness correctly. However, I've seen similar usage in other instances where the same first letter was used. So, there is not an established name for this type of saying, I presume? source

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    Done properly, they should read "From Aardvarks to Zebras"... so they are "from A to Z"... Though a lot of times they will just pick four things that are considered on four ends of a topical spectrum and list all four. "From Elephants to Lions; and from Seals to Snakes... You'll find it all at our zoo." Or whatever... regardless, I'm guessing that each iteration gets farther from the traditional A - Z.
    – Catija
    May 18 '15 at 4:15
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    Like you already wrote, this saying is supposed to convey multiple things. Variety (from A to Z would also work there), similarity (vegetables, animals) and also, in the specific case of the title, the fact that the choice does include vegetables\animals which are somewhat out of the ordinary (in that context). A to Z would work, though, and in questions of style (especially in advertising) "the logic" is not always the most important thing to consider. A to Z might have been too ordinary, the writer might not have known a fancy vegetable starting with Z or they just like alliterations.
    – skymningen
    May 18 '15 at 6:27
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    The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The diversity is in the hands of the user. May 18 '15 at 9:16
  • Can you provide a reference to the saying in your title? It seems like it's ironic, by not using a range of letters. The context will likely make it clear whether this is intentional.
    – Barmar
    May 18 '15 at 20:16
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    It seems the marketers were more into making a memorable meme than in sticking to strict similes to specify the spread, neither of varietal vegetation nor antithetic animals; else they would not have chosen two olivine objects and two adorable marsupials. But they could have done worse; had they used artichokes rather than asparagus, it would be two oval objects with olivine outsides and lighter-green insides!) Jun 26 '15 at 9:01

There are at least three literary devices present. Both of the examples in the title, "asparagus to avocados" and "kangaroos to koalas" exhibit two of them. Those two devices are alliteration, and juxtaposition. Alliteration is the device where two or more nearby words begin with the same, or nearly the same sound. In the case of the vegetables, the sound is "a"; in the case of Australian fauna, the sound is "k". Alliteration is the opposite of rhyme, the literary device where two words end with the same sound.

Juxtaposition is the literary device which puts uses two items in side by side placement to bring attention to some particular concept or idea. In the case of the asparagus and avocados, the idea might be to bring attention to the breadth of offerings in a produce department. In the case of the 'roos and koalas, it is to call attention to the diversity of the fauna of the Australian continent.

The combination of alliteration and juxtaposition is likely influenced by marketing considerations. Alliteration is sufficiently rare in common English speech and writing so as to be more memorable when it is noticed, so more people are likely to notice and to remember "asparagus to avocados" than are likely to notice and remember "avocados to tomatoes", and similarly "kangaroos to koalas" will be noticed and be remembered longer than "dingos to wallabys".

There is a third literary device at play in the first example, "asparagus to avocados", as well, assonance, which is when two words in close proximity each include the same, or very similar vowel sounds, in this case the sound of the initial "a". However, unlike alliteration, assonance is not limited to the initial sound of the word, nor to the same position in the word. "Avocado with cod (fish)" and "periwinkle twinkie" both are examples of assonance.

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    You might be thinking of "run the gamut", which has musical origins Late Middle English: from medieval Latin gamma ut, originally the name of the lowest note in the medieval scale (bass G an octave and a half below middle C), then applied to the whole range of notes used in medieval music. The Greek letter Γ (gamma) was used for bass G, with ut indicating that it was the first note in the lowest of the hexachords or six-note scales (see solmization). oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/gamut
    – amdn
    Jun 26 '15 at 4:40
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    @amdn, no. I am a musican with an interest in medieval music, and know of the phrase, and the meaning of "run the gamut". I remember my English teacher in my senior year of High School, in the section on poetry, discussing literary devices, and I (think I) remember that there was a specific name for the literary device of which "from a to z", or "from aardvarks to zebras", or "from here to infinity", or "from dusk to dawn", or any of a number of exemplars. I just don't remember the name of the device.
    – brasshat
    Jun 26 '15 at 4:44
  • Ok, I couldn't find the literary device but came across that phrase and thought perhaps that was it.
    – amdn
    Jun 26 '15 at 4:46
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    @amdn, found it.
    – brasshat
    Jun 26 '15 at 4:58
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    @brasshat Assonance has nothing to do with the "first vowel sound." It's any repeated vowel sounds that are close enough together. They do NOT have to be the first vowels in the words or begin the words.
    – nomad
    Jun 29 '15 at 13:14

It's called a litany.

"she was reciting the litany"
a tedious recital or repetitive series.
"a litany of complaints"
synonyms: recital, recitation, enumeration

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