A couple weeks ago I was watching an episode of Forensic Files on Netflix, when a specific grammatical technique (I honestly don't know what else to call it) was mentioned. The name fails me, but I remember it was something like "Ironic Something-ism".

The best example that comes to mind was a quote from a note left by a murderer:

"She wanted to cut it off, so I cut off her head."

The term specifically had to do with using the same word twice with different meanings as in the quote. What is this called? I've tried Googling it, but I can't find anything. I might go back to the episode later, but I'm currently on lunch break at work and it's driving me insane.


2 Answers 2


I found it! It's called Ironic Repetition. The episode was Season 11, Episode 30, "A Tight Leash". I was mistaken as the quote from the show was actually,

"She wanted to break it off. So I broke her neck."

This appears to be a rather uncommon Forensic Linguistics term, possibly coined by forensic linguist Robert Leonard. I honestly don't know if there is another name for this device, but I was able to find a reference to it in Forensic Linguistics: Applying the Scientific Principles of Language Analysis to Issues of the Law, which was written by Robert Andrew Leonard, and published by The Humanities Collection.

To quote the paper:

… the device consists of repeating the same verb in two consecutive sentences in a passage but changing the context of use in such a way as to express irony. In both cases the irony is achieved by a change of the subject and a shift of the complement of the verb from the first sentence to the second.

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    I'd say it's a nonce term rather than a rather uncommon Forensic Linguistics term. From your article: 'We discovered a striking similarity between the two anonymous samples: short as the letters are, the writings of both the stalker and the serial killer contain the same uncommon, quite precise rhetorical discourse device that we called “ironic repetition.” ' Mar 30, 2017 at 17:58
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    As this passage [The Routledge Handbook of Humour ... Ironic Repetition] shows that the term was already used in a rather different way, I can't accept this answer as helpful. Mar 30, 2017 at 18:00
  • @EdwinAshworth Both instances are fairly obscure, but I fail to see how my answer is unhelpful as it correctly answers my question and "who used it first" has no bearing upon how it was used in this context. I'll agree that it was fairly obscure, but I wouldn't call it a "nonce term" as it is referenced in several cases and has been used in court testimony to establish the author(s) of notes related to certain crimes. Mar 30, 2017 at 18:13

You might be thinking of zeugma or syllepsis: The Wikipedia article Zeugma and Syllepsis defines these terms in two separate ways, in the following excerpts:

Type 1

Grammatical syllepsis (sometimes also called zeugma): where a single word is used in relation to two other parts of a sentence although the word grammatically or logically applies to only one.

By definition, grammatical syllepsis will often be grammatically "incorrect" according to prescriptivist rules. However, such solecisms are sometimes not errors but intentional constructions in which the rules of grammar are bent by necessity or for stylistic effect.

Type 2

Zeugma (often also called syllepsis, or semantic syllepsis): a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence but must be understood differently in relation to each. Example: "He took his hat and his leave." The type of figure is grammatically correct but creates its effect by seeming, at first hearing, to be incorrect by its exploiting multiple shades of meaning in a single word or phrase.

Wikipedia content is licensed under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 terms of use. Bracketed material has been removed.

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    Hi Connor: help center guidelines suggest always quoting the most relevant part of an important webpage you link, in case the page goes offline permanently. I have taken the liberty of doing this for you, but you may wish to review the edit to see which definition better suits the purposes of the answer
    – Tonepoet
    Mar 30, 2017 at 19:20
  • No; in OP's example, the 'two-sense' word / expression (cut off) occurs twice, not once. Apr 1, 2017 at 0:19

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