antanaclasis (word play)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Vidal Sassoon used antanaclasis in the slogan for his company's hair products: "If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.". (Jill Kennington/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Antanaclasis is a rhetorical term for a type of verbal play in which one word is used in two contrasting (and often comic) senses—a type of homonymic pun. Also known as the rebound. This particular type of wordplay makes it a common choice for slogans and sayings.

Antanaclasis appears often in aphorisms, such as "If we don't hang together, we shall surely hang separately."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek "antanáklasis," meaning "reflection, bending, breaking against" (anti, "against,"; ana, "up"; klásis, "breaking")

Pronunciation: an-tan-ACK-la-sis

Examples and Observations

  • "And there's bars on the corners and bars on the heart."
    (Tim McGraw, "Where The Green Grass Grows")
  • "People on the go . . . go for Coke."
    (advertisement for Coca Cola)
  • "If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm."
    (Vince Lombardi)
  • Viola: Save thee, friend, and thy music! Dost thou live by thy tabour?
    Clown: No, sir, I live by the church.
    Viola: Art thou a churchman?
    Clown: No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.
    (William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 1)
  • "For every woman growing anxious about thinning hair, there are thousands growing it back."
    (advertisement for Rogaine)
  • "At first glance, Shirley Polykoff's slogan--'If I've only one life, let me live it as a blonde!'--seems like merely another example of a superficial and irritating rhetorical trope (antanaclasis) that now happens to be fashionable among advertising copy writers."
    (Tom Wolfe, "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening")
  • "Death, tho I see him not, is near
    And grudges me my eightieth year.
    Now I would give him all these last
    For one that fifty have run past.
    Ah! He strikes all things, all alike,
    But bargains: those he will not strike."
    (Walter Savage Landor, "Age")
  • "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana" - popular pun of unknown origin, which relies on an instance of antanaclasis to create a second kind of wordplay, the "garden path sentence," which "tricks" the reader into expecting something else or confusing meaning in the second half of the sentence.
  • Antanaclasis in Hip Hop
    "Rarely is it that a single rhetorical form can essentially define the poetics of not just one MC but of an entire clique. Such is the case with the Diplomats and the figurative trope of antanaclasis. Antanaclasis is when a single word is repeated multiple times, but each time with a different meaning. For the Diplomats, the popularity of it likely began with Cam'ron, the leading member of Dipset, who started his career rapping alongside Mase. Consider the following lines off one of his mix-tape releases: 'I flip China White,/my dishes white china/from China.' Playing with just two words, he renders them in several distinct permutations. China white is a particular variety of heroin. White china is a generic term for dishware, and he then goes on to specify that his dishware actually is from China. What might sound like nonsense or repetition for the sake of sound alone soon reveals itself as a rhetorical figure in action."
    (Adam Bradley, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop. BasicCivitas, 2009)
  • From Antanaclasis to Aposiopesis
    "'Hem!' again said the thrifty Roland, with a slight inflection of the beetle brows. 'It may be next to nothing, Ma'am--sister--just as a butcher's shop may be next to Northumberland House, but there is a vast deal between nothing and that next neighbour you have given it.'
    "This speech was so like one of my father's--so naive an imitation of that subtle reasoner's use of the rhetorical figure called Antanaclasis (or repetition of the same words in a different sense), that I laughed and my mother smiled. But she smiled reverently, not thinking of the Antanaclasis, as, laying her hand on Roland's arm, she replied in the yet more formidable figure of speech called Epiphonema (or exclamation), 'Yet, with all your economy, you would have had us--'
    "'Tut!' cried my uncle, parrying the Epiphonema with a masterly Aposiopesis (or breaking off), 'tut! if you had done what I wished, I should have had more pleasure for my money!'
    "My poor mother's rhetorical armoury supplied no weapon to meet that artful Aposiopesis, so she dropped the rhetoric altogether, and went on with that 'unadorned eloquence' natural to her, as to other great financial reformers."
    (Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Caxtons: A Family Picture, 1849)
  • Serious Word Play
    "The modern sensibility prefers the mechanics of a rhetorical effect to be hidden from view; anything which smacks of contrivance or artifice, any construction which leaves the scaffolding in place, is regarded with some suspicion. . . . In other words, the more obvious the pun to the reader (regardless of what feats of ingenuity went into its fabrication), the less pleasure there is to be derived from it. This is perhaps why antanaclasis, the figure in which a word occurs and is then repeated in a different sense, has never been rehabilitated . . .; the repetition flags the effects, and it shades from being clever into being clever-clever. This hasn't always been the case. In the Renaissance, obviousness was no impediment to joy: quite the opposite, in fact."
    (Sophie Read, "Puns: Serious Wordplay." Renaissance Figures of Speech, ed. by Sylvia Adamson et al,. Cambridge University Press, 2008)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "antanaclasis (word play)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). antanaclasis (word play). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "antanaclasis (word play)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).