What is the term for the literary device employed in poetry whereby an idea is repeated using different words, in order to provide emphasis? It's common in the Biblical psalms, for example the very first verse of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

This is neither anaphora nor epiphora (as I understand it), because it's not using exactly the same words either at the beginning of the phrase or at the end, but the three phrases mean exactly the same thing (association with the heathen).

The device is not confined to the Bible of course; for example Patrick Barrington's famous comic poem I Had A Hippopotamus employs the lines

Time takes, alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses


...nothing upon earth Is constant in its happiness or lasting in its mirth

The technique obviously predates English by several millennia, but (and I suppose this is a secondary question) was it used in English poetry prior to the translation of the Bible?

Apologies if this is a duplicate of another question. I've searched on 'repetition' in various ways and could not find a question that exactly matched this one.

  • You could argue that this is a form of epanorthosis: "a rhetorical device in which something just said is repeated and stronger or more apt words are substituted." – John Clifford Mar 7 '16 at 8:37
  • Prior to which translation of the Bible? – JEL Mar 7 '16 at 11:58
  • @JEL: well, for practical purposes the KJV, since it had such an enormous influence on the common use of English; Wyclif perhaps, but earlier translations were nothing like as widespread, I think. – Charl E Mar 7 '16 at 12:19

Several figures of repetition could suit. The most suited, by my understanding of your question, is schesis onomaton. An early, perhaps the original technique referenced by the term was "A sentence constructed only of nouns and adjectives (typically in a regular pattern)" (Silva Rhetoricae, "scesis onomaton"). Later the sense developed into this:

A series of successive, synonymous expressions.

(op. cit.)

That the repetition would emphasize the repeated idea is a given. Examples include these, gleaned from American Rhetoric: Rhetorical Figures in Sound, "Scesis Onomaton":

C: Look, matee, this parrot wouldn't "voom" if I put 4000 volts through it. It's bleeding demised!

O: It's not. It's -- It's pining!

C: It's not pining! It's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot!! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies! It's run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! This is an EX-PARROT!

(Monty Python, "Dead Parrot Sketch")

"I'm a 'leadership of the free world' duck. And I'm continuing to spread our agenda globally, and around the world, as well as internationally."

(George W. Bush, 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner)

Other figures that might with a stretch suit your question, putting my sense of what you're asking aside, include these more nuanced figures:

  • epimone: the repetition is of a plea;
  • exergasia aka expolitio: in addition to the unavoidable emphasis of the repeated idea, the repetition in exergasia is directed toward the aim of varying, explaining, and amplifying the idea;
  • synonymia: in addition to emphasis, the repetitions of synonymia amplify the emotional and conceptual dimensions of the repeated idea.
  • The Parrot Sketch is such a good example of what I was thinking about, I wish I'd thought of it. The secondary sense of schesis onomaton describes, I think, exactly what I was looking for - thanks. – Charl E Mar 7 '16 at 12:56

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