What Is Accumulation?


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In rhetoricaccumulation is a figure of speech in which a speaker or writer gathers scattered points and lists them together. Also known as congeries.

Sam Leith defines accumulation as "the heaping on of words, either of similar meaning—'Itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini'—or in summation of the broader argument of the speech: 'He schemed, he plotted, he lied, he stole, he raped, he killed, and he parked in the mother-and-child slot outside the supermarket despite having come on his own'" (Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama, 2012).

The traditional name of this device in rhetoric is accumulatio.

Etymology: From the Latin, "pile up, heap"

Examples of Accumulation

  • "A generation goes and a generation comes, yet the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and rushes back again to the place from which it rises. The wind blows south, then returns to the north, round and round goes the wind, on its rounds it circulates. All streams flow to the sea, yet the sea does not fill up."
    (Ecclesiastes, The Old Testament)
  • "I don't know how to manage my time; he does. . . .
    I don't know how to dance and he does.
    I don't know how to type and he does.
    I don't know how to drive. If I suggest that I should get a license too he disagrees. He says I would never manage it. I think he likes me to be dependent on him for some things.
    I don't know how to sing and he does. . . ."
    (Natalia Ginzburg, "He and I." The Little Virtues, 1962; trans., 1985)
  • "I will not excuse you; you shall not be excused; excuses shall not be admitted; there is no excuse shall serve; you shall not be excused."
    (Shallow to Falstaff in Act V, scene one of The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth by William Shakespeare)
  • Accumulation in Swift's "A Modest Proposal"
    "[Jonathan] Swift uses the device of accumulation to good effect . . . [in] the brief description in the final paragraph: 'having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich.' This series concisely echoes each of the major group of reasons which have been set forth (except the antipapist reasons, which might, from the point of view of the projector, be included 'in the public good'). It is natural that both instances of accumulation in this essay should occur in the peroration, for recapitulation is one of the standard uses of this section of the speech."
    (Charles A. Beaumont, "Swift's Rhetoric in 'A Modest Proposal.'" Landmark Essays on Rhetoric and Literature, ed. by Craig Kallendorf. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)
  • George Carlin's Use of Accumulation
    I’m a modern man, digital and smoke-free;
    a man for the millennium.
    A diversified, multi-cultural, post-modern deconstructionist;
    politically, anatomically and ecologically incorrect.
    I’ve been uplinked and downloaded,
    I’ve been inputted and outsourced.
    I know the upside of downsizing,
    I know the downside of upgrading.
    I’m a high-tech low-life.
    a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art,
    bi-coastal multi-tasker,
    and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond. . . .
    (George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, Hyperion, 2004)

Accumulation as a Type of Amplification

  • "There is an aggregation of particulars relating to the subject. This is sometimes considered a separate figure under the name of accumulation. The following is an example:
    This arbitrary and tyrannical power which the Earl of Strafford did exercise with his own person, and to which he did advise his majesty, is inconsistent with the peace, the wealth, and the prosperity of the nation; it is destructive to justice, the mother of peace; to industry, the spring of wealth; to valor, which is the active virtue whereby only the prosperity of a nation can be produced, confirmed, enlarged.
    (John Pym) Here the subject is amplified by the mention of a number of cases in which the policy of Strafford wrought evil; as in the case of peace, wealth, prosperity, justice, industry, and valor.
    "The same may be seen in the following:
    Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers, and your bonds; your affidavits, and your sufferances; your cockets, and your clearances, form the great securities of your commerce.
    Observing the wide and general devastation, and all the horrors of the scene—of plains unclothed and brown; of vegetables burned up and extinguished; of villages depopulated and in ruins; of temples unroofed and perishing; of reservoirs broken down and dry—he would naturally inquire, what war has thus laid waste the fertile fields of this once beautiful and opulent country?
    (Sheridan) Amplification is here applied to description, and the subject, which is the devastation of Oude, is enlarged by the accumulation of particulars, such as the plains, the vegetation, the villages, the temples, and the reservoirs."
    (James De Mille, The Elements of Rhetoric. Harper, 1878)

Pronunciation: ah-kyoom-you-LAY-shun

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Accumulation?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/accumulation-rhetoric-1692385. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). What Is Accumulation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/accumulation-rhetoric-1692385 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Accumulation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/accumulation-rhetoric-1692385 (accessed March 30, 2023).