"Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon in front of them."

Years ago, when I was introduced to "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (Tennyson, 1854) our teacher pointed out the repeated use of the word "cannon", like a refrain, was a figure of speech. He went on to give other examples, of which my mind retained only this:

Victory at all costs,

victory in spite of all terror,

victory however long and hard the road may be. (Winston Churchill, June 1940)

  • just BTW, I'm not sure if that "thing" is quite a "figure of speech". as you say, it's a rhetorical device, or perhaps a "speech pattern" or something. As you know a figure of speech is "a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect." -- this has utterly no connection to that, really.
    – Fattie
    Jun 5, 2015 at 3:30

2 Answers 2


I think is an anaphora:

  • In writing or speech, the deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect is known as Anaphora.

  • Anaphora, possibly the oldest literary device, has its roots in Biblical Psalms used to emphasize certain words or phrases. Gradually, Elizabethan and Romantic writers brought this device into practice. Examine the following psalm:

    • “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
    • My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”


  • Josh, would the lyrics of "Turn, turn, turn", be an example?
    – Centaurus
    Jun 4, 2015 at 22:53
  • cent -- sure they would.
    – Fattie
    Jun 5, 2015 at 3:29
  • Yes I agree: lyricsfreak.com/b/byrds/turn+turn+turn_20026419.html
    – user66974
    Jun 5, 2015 at 5:07
  • @Centaurus If you look at that convenient link and the definitions there, it seems your example of just a single word repeated three times meets logically almost all of the definitions. But I can't seem to find any one category that's just repetition of a single word in succession, like 'turn turn turn'. Of course 'there is a season', repeated at the beginning of every line, is classic anaphora.
    – Mitch
    Jun 5, 2015 at 13:34
  • @Mitch I don't mean "turn, turn, turn" being an anaphora. I mean "A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep. I mean the use of the word "time".
    – Centaurus
    Jun 5, 2015 at 16:02

There's a whole bunch of named figures of speech involving repetition. The specific one for repetition at the beginning of every phrase happens to be called


  • Ack! They were both posted at the same time! So I'm upvoting both.
    – IchabodE
    Jun 4, 2015 at 22:48
  • Right -- indeed "three part lists" are also incredibly common in political speeches. I guess these are both.
    – Fattie
    Jun 5, 2015 at 3:29

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