adversative asyndeton


[uh-sin-di-ton, -tuhn]
Asyndeton (Greek: ἀσύνδετον) is a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses. Examples are veni, vidi, vici and its English translation "I came, I saw, I conquered." Its use can have the effect of speeding up the rhythm of a passage and making a single idea more memorable. More generally, in grammar, an asyndetic coordination is a type of coordination in which no coordinating conjunction is present between the conjuncts.

Aristotle wrote in his Rhetoric that this device was more effective in spoken oratories than in written prose:

  • "Thus strings of unconnected words, and constant repetitions of words and phrases, are very properly condemned in written speeches: but not in spoken speeches — speakers use them freely, for they have a dramatic effect. In this repetition there must be variety of tone, paving the way, as it were, to dramatic effect; e.g. 'This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely.'" Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book III, Chapter 12 (trans. W. Rhys Roberts).

Aristotle also believed that asyndeton can be used effectively in endings of works, and he himself employs the device in the final passage of the Rhetoric:

  • "For the conclusion, the disconnected style of language is appropriate, and will mark the difference between the oration and the peroration. 'I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgement.'" Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book III, Chapter 19 (trans. W. Rhys Roberts).

Several notable examples can be found in American political speeches:

  • "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
  • "...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.

The US Declaration of Independence includes an example of asyndeton, referring to the British:

  • "We must... hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends."

This quotation is also an example of chiasmus.

Another frequently used, extended example, is Winston Churchill's address, "We shall fight on the beaches":

  • "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. . . "

Asyndeton may be contrasted with syndeton (syndetic coordination) and polysyndeton, which describe the use of one or multiple coordinating conjunctions, respectively.

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