Antimetabole: Figure of Speech

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In rhetoric, a verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the words in reverse grammatical order (A-B-C, C-B-A) is called antimetabole. Pronounced as "an-tee-meh-TA-bo-lee," it is essentially the same as chiasmus.

The Roman rhetorician Quintilian identified antimetabole as a type of antithesis.

Antimetabole comes from the Greek phrase, "turning about in the opposite direction."

Examples and Observations

The following are excellent examples of antimetaboles used in notable literature:

A. J. Liebling: I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.

Zora Neale Hurston: Women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget.

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Malcolm X: We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on us.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Jules Renard: It is not how old you are, but how you are old.

Jeffrey Rosen: If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who has been indicted.

Senator Robert Dole: A government that seizes control of the economy for the good of the people, ends up seizing control of the people for the good of the economy.

The Difference Between Antimetabole and Chiasmus

Clive James: [T]hose of us who have been granted a disproportionate ability to express ourselves may not always have the best selves to express.

Jeanne Fahnestock: The only distinguishing feature of the antimetabole is that at least two terms from the first colon change their relative places in the second, appearing now in one order, now in reversed order. In the process of changing their syntactic position in relation to each other, these terms change their grammatical and conceptual relation as well. Thus in St. Augustine's declaration of a semiotic principle--'[E]very sign is also a thing . . . but not every thing is also a sign'--'sign' and 'thing' switch places in propositions claiming, first, that the set of all signs is a subset of the set of all things, but, second, that the reverse conceptual relation dictated by the reverse syntax does not hold . . .. Seventeen hundred years later, a journalist used the same form to complain about the unfortunate relationship between members of his own profession and the politicians they report: 'Our cynicism begets their fakery and their fakery begets our cynicism' . . .. In each of these examples, separated by almost two thousand years, the arguer builds on the conceptual reversal created by the syntactic and grammatical reversal.<br/>"A variant of the antimetabole, to which the name 'chiasmus' is sometimes applied, abandons the constraint of repeating the same words in the second colon yet retains a pattern of inversion . . .. Instead of repetition, this variant uses words related in some recognizable way--perhaps as synonyms or opposites or members of the same category--and these related words change positions.

Jesse Jackson: I, too, was born in the slum. But just because you're born in the slum does not mean the slum is born in you, and you can rise above it if your mind is made up.

Ray Bradbury: You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.