I am trying to find the name for the rather recent, I think, rhetorical device of one-word sentences used for emphasis and effect.

For example:

Columnist Ruth Marcus, writing for the Washington Post, wrote this of Hillary Clinton's speaking fees:

“You don’t need any more! Just. Stop. Speaking. For. Pay.”

Columnist Michael Barone, writing in the Washington Examiner, wrote this about the chances of a contested Republican convention:

“I have bad news for those looking forward to a brokered convention. It. Isn’t. Going. To. Happen.”

Final example: Bob asks, "Are you ever going to stop using sentence fragments in your writing?"

Mary responds, "I. Don't. Think. So."

So, in the realm of rhetorical devices . . .

Repetition of a beginning word, phrase, or clause in consecutive sentences = Anaphora.

Insertion of conjunctions between every item in a series = Polysyndeton.

One. Word. Sentences. = ? ? ?

Can anyone help?

Footnote for anyone reading. From the related question, in terms of a search for the origin, really the best possibility which came to the fore was: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_book_guy. Possibly 1997. But the origin is still totally unclear, unfortunately; CBG could have been referring to something from the 80s, say.

  • 2
    Actually, they are not sentences!
    – TrevorD
    May 12, 2016 at 11:55
  • 1
    As @trevord said they are not sentences. They are, as you mentionnned, sentence fragments: "A SENTENCE FRAGMENT fails to be a sentence in the sense that it cannot stand by itself. It does not contain even one independent clause." So I'd suggest "sentence fragment" for what they are and "sentence fragmentation" for the style or the process, or even "full stop fragmentation style".
    – P. O.
    May 12, 2016 at 12:02
  • 3
    Perhaps punctuation for emphasis as opposed to punctuation for grammar.
    – Lawrence
    May 12, 2016 at 13:05
  • Note. Every single example of the meme you include is a bad example. Classically, the meme Has. Three. Words. Three only, not four or five.
    – Fattie
    May 12, 2016 at 13:40
  • 2
    This question is related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/41078/…
    – jejorda2
    May 12, 2016 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


When every single word in a short phrase is punctuated by a period (full stop BrEng), what effect does this produce in the reader? He or she is forced to pause before moving onto the next word. So, yes, I would call this form of writing, and speaking a rhetorical device, because it creates an effect on the audience.

This (for want of a better expression) “period emphasis” is similar to how we might place a word, or short phrase in italics, bold, “scare quotes”, or in block capital letters, i.e. CAPS. Ultimately, in the quotations cited by the OP, the journalist's aim is to grab the reader's attention.

Punctuating a short phrase in this manner is an economical way of adding pathos, levity, and/or tension to any news or piece of communication. A way to highlight a moment of mock drama; e.g. Janice Litman from F.R.I.E.N.D.S and her catchphrase Oh. My. God!; extreme levity (Best. Party. Ever.) or even a powerful way to emit a threat (You. Will. Die).

What's it called?

All The Tropes has a page dedicated to Punctuated! For! Emphasis! and provides these examples from the Harry Potter series among many others from different movies and books

"Life. Isn't. Fair."
"Don't. Lie. To me."
"You. Don't. Know."
"Don't. Call. Me. A. Coward!"
"Mr. Potter... Our. New. Celebrity."

  • 1
    Though I hesitate to call TV Tropes a reliable source, I think Punctuated For Emphasis is a pretty accurate description. Jun 17, 2016 at 14:38
  • 1
    Good answer. Know Your Meme has further information about the trope, in an entry titled "Best. Day. Ever." The suggestion there is that the punctuated form began as an attempt to represent phrases (such as "Best day ever") that were spoken with long pauses between each word. Know Your Meme traces the usage at least as far back as December 1, 2008. I'm not sure, though, whether KYM's naming the meme after the (supposedly) first published instance of the phrase in which it appeared counts as naming the rhetorical device itself.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 20, 2016 at 17:26
  • heh, "Punctuated! For! Emphasis!" clever and apposite.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:32
  • It's interesting that we're no closer at all to getting any sort of early usage. Sven, that article is pretty low quality, at least it mentions the usage in Tim Kring's "Heroes" in 2008. (It's really inconceivable that was the first usage/invention .. that was just one of any number of throw-away uses of it when it was particularly popular.)
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:35
  • With careful consideration and the bounty expiring I've decided this is the Best answer - "Punctuated! For! Emphasis!" is the closest thing to a "name of the meme". By all means, the academic answer below is superb and fully examines language describing that type of rhetorical device (t's so academic and excellent, it don't need no steenking bounty!) MLA has saved the day.
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2016 at 23:31

There are a lot--a lot--of terms used in rhetoric to describe the event of single-word sentences and/or juxtaposition of short sentences without explicit conjunctions. The most basic term for this is parataxis or asyndeton. An even broader heading would be ellipsis. There are probably 25 to 50 synonyms and related terms. However, all of these fall short of being a name for exactly the phenomenon you are talking about.

So does this--although, if I had to write about the phenomenon you are talking about, I would be quick to bring it in:

Scesis Onomaton (ske’-sis-o-no’-ma-ton):

  1. A sentence constructed only of nouns and adjectives (typically in a regular pattern).
  2. A series of successive, synonymous expressions.

Examples: "Political problem. Violent solution. Civil war. Revolution. Riots. Fire. Bullets. Death. Broken nation. Torn apart. Broken promises. Broken hearts."

"Don’t forget to write! Remember me in letters! I hope to hear from you soon!"


There are also brachylogia--

The absence of conjunctions between single words. Compare asyndeton. The effect of brachylogia is a broken, hurried delivery.

"Phillip! Rise! Eat! Leave!"

"Love, hate, jealousy, frenzy, fury drew him from pity" —Angel Day


--and isocolon

A series of similarly structured elements having the same length. A kind of parallelism. Examples Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)


The term articulus captures a bit of the sense of dilation intended by the use of periods in your phenomenon.

Please note that this question is a dupe of at least two others on English.Stackexchange (don't have the links anymore, sorry)--none of which has, in my opinion, a definitive answer. That's not to say a term for exactly this rhetorical gesture doesn't exist. (If it doesn't, it will in a couple years.) But the best I can do for now is find something similar.

  • @JoeBlow Yes, seven different terms is definitely an answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 22, 2016 at 23:21
  • 1
    I'm not saying it's the answer :) Indeed I was just about to say: The problem is this is an academic answer to, err, "what do you call this modality". It does not at all address the issue "what's this meme called?" You know?
    – Fattie
    Jun 22, 2016 at 23:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.