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Rhetorical devices: Scesis Onomaton - examples & definition

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What is Scesis Onomaton?

Scesis Onomaton (also known as Accumulatio, but from now on I'm going to refer to it as the far easier to remember - and say - 'Replication') is a rhetorical technique that very effectively emphasizes a point with the successive use of several words or phrases which have more or less the same meaning. Effectively, it says the same thing in several different ways.

It's a very powerful way to get a point across. For example, when John Cleese uses the following synonyms for being dead in the famous Monty Python 'Dead Parrot Sketch' he's using Replication to emphasize that the parrot is 'bleedin' demised!' and not just 'resting' as the pet shop owner keeps insisting:

Monty Python's 'Dead Parrot' sketch

"(This parrot) ... is passed on! It 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"

It's something that is used to great effect by President Obama:

  • "That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America”
  • "There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay the doctor’s bills, or save enough for college
  • Brick by brick, block by block, callused hand by callused hand
  • "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep
  • “Our campaign ...... began in the backyards of Des Moines, and the living rooms of Concord
    and the front porches of Charleston

Let's have a look at a few other examples, and then I'll show you how you can use it yourself when you want to really emphasize a point in your presentations:

"This here song by The Police, 'Murder by Numbers', was written by Satan, performed by the Sons of Satan -- Beelzebub, Lucifer, The Horned One" - Christian Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart 

"Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, we'll hunt him ...because he can take it ...because he's not our hero. He's a Silent Guardian, a Watchful Protector, a Dark Knight" - actor Gary Oldman (movie 'The Dark Knight')

"There is no room in this country for any flag except our own. There is no room for the red flag. It is opposed to everything our government stands for. It stands for anarchy, chaos and ruin" – Leonard Wood

“A sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that deal corruptly - Isaiah 1:4

"Let not your hearts be faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified . . ." - Deut. 20:3

"He departed, he went hence, he burst forth, he was gone" - Cicero

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" - Wm Shakespeare (Julius Casear)

"You must either conquer and rule, or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer" - Goethe

"Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup" - Winston Churchill

"All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into darkness" - Winston Churchill

So ..... how can you use this technique yourself in presentations?

First of all, you'll note that most of the above examples use three similar words or phrases (I know John Cleese used 13, but that was for comedic effect; however I do give an example below where I use 14 at a certain point in my a seminars!). This is using another rhetorical technique, the Tricolon. Neuroscientists don't know why, but the human brain seems to absorb information more effectively when it's presented in threes rather than twos or fours. It's probably President Obama's favorite rhetorical technique (there are 22 examples of it in his Inaugural Address alone). So combine scesis onomaton with a tricolon and use three synonyms for greatest effect.

Let's say in your first presentation draft you've written the words, "Such a course of action would be expensive," and you want to really emphasize this point, drive it home and make it stick (sorry, just couldn't help myself there, got carried away). Now you could just simply add an adjective, and say 'really expensive' or 'very expensive.'

But a better approach would be to go online and look for synonyms for expensive. Amongst other things, you'd find exorbitant, extravagant, costly, lavish, high-priced, excessive, luxurious, unaffordable and overpriced. You can then just pick a couple and change it to: "... would be very expensive, extremely costly and a luxury we cannot afford." Which is more powerful?

If you planned to say, "Our objectives this year are stretching," you could change it to "Our objectives this year are stretching. They're ambitious, ...... they're BIG." Saying that is more powerful, has more impact and is far more effective (there I go again; see how easy it is?).

Which is more powerful? "We're to play the competition at their own game.," or "... play the competition at their own game, fight fire with fire, play tit for tat.".

If you wanted to stress that you were completely behind a course of action, instead of saying "X has my full support," you could say, "X has my full, 100%, unequivocal support."

If you want to emphasize that a competitor's policy is dangerous and could eat away at your market share, don't just say, "it could gradually eat into it." Say instead, "eat into it bit by bit, piece by piece, mouthful by mouthful.

Finally, let me give you two examples from my seminars. For the first, I'm making the point that most presenters use slides badly, and that rather than focus on writing and delivering a great speech, they simply put a dozen slides together and then talk around them, because it's easier that way. I then say,"It’s a short-cut. It’s a safety blanket. It’s a crutch."

For the second example I use the technique twice, back-to-back. When I'm making the point that most presenters open up ineffectively and waste that precious first 30 seconds (for how to do it properly, read 'How to grab 'em by the throat'), I say 'Now there's nothing wrong with opening with a self-introduction. Nobody will criticize you. Nobody ever got the sack by opening with a greeting." That's the first use.

I then go on to say, 'It's just that it's predictable. Average. Everyday. Pedestrian. Mundane. Humdrum. Grey. Bland. Colorless. Conservative. Forgettable. Safe. Obvious. So-so. And boring."

Phew! Using 14 synonyms is an extreme example, to say the least. It even beats John Cleese! I merely show you this to demonstrate that it can be done.

One final point. Replication is very memorable, so you don't want to use it too much or it will be overkill. So use it sparingly, just to emphasize certain pointsyou really want to hammer home.

Good luck, bon chance, and que tengas suerte in using it!

Related articles:

What is scesis onomaton?
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