Diacope Rhetoric

poppy field
"And now, my beauties, something with poison in it, I think. With poison in it, but attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell.". Brian Roberts / Getty Images

Diacope is a rhetorical term for the repetition of a word or phrase broken up by one or more intervening words. Plural diacopae or diacopes. Adjective: diacopic.

  • As Mark Forsyth has observed, "Diacope, diacope ... it works. Nobody would have cared if Hamlet had asked, 'Whether or not to be?' or 'To be or not?' or 'To be or to die?' No. The most famous line in English literature is famous not for the content but for the wording. To be or not to be" (The Elements of Eloquence, 2013).

Etymology: From the Greek, "a cutting in two."

Examples of Diacope

  • "Scott Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So help me, God! Yellow eyes!"
    (Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story, 1983)
  • "I hate to be poor, and we are degradingly poor, offensively poor, miserably poor, beastly poor."
    (Bella Wilfer in chapter four of Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens)
  • "It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn't know; and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything."
    (Joyce Cary, Art & Reality, 1958)
  • "It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn't give enough."
    (Quentin Crisp, Manners From Heaven, 1984)
  • "Life is not lost by dying! Life is lost
    Minute by minute, day by dragging day,
    In all the thousand, small, uncaring ways."
    (Stephen Vincent Benét, A Child Is Born, 1942)
  • "Their entire lives had been spent in the deification of the unessential, in the reduction of puttering to a science. They had puttered their lives away and were still puttering, only, as they grew older, with a greater intensity, and from the first their lives had been extremely happy."
    (Charles Macomb Flandrau, "Little Pictures of People." Prejudices, 1913)
  • "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."
    (Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 1927)
  • "All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion."
    (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1877)
  • "I am neat, scrupulously neat, in regard to the things I care about; but a book, as a book, is not one of those things."
    (Max Beerbohm, "Whistler's Writing." The Pall Mall Magazine, 1904)
  • "He wore prim vested suits with neckties blocked primly against the collar buttons of his primly starched white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique."
    (Russell Baker, Growing Up, 1982)
  • "Put out the light, and then put out the light."
    (Othello in William Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice, Act Five, scene 2)
  • "And now, my beauties, something with poison in it, I think. With poison in it, but attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell."
    (The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
  • "Of course, in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuit of sanity can be a form of madness, too."
    (Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King. Viking, 1959)
  • "You're not fully clean until you're Zestfully clean."
    (advertising slogan for Zest soap)
  • "I knew it. Born in a hotel room--and goddamn it--died in a hotel room."
    (last words of playwright Eugene O'Neill)
  • "Tourette's teaches you what people will ignore and forget, teaches you to see the reality-knitting mechanism people employ to tuck away the intolerable, the incongruous, the disruptive--it teaches you this because you're the one lobbing the intolerable, incongruous, and disruptive their way."
    (Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn. Doubleday, 1999)
  • "[British Prime Minister] Blair sounded like a man who had spent the morning riffling through handbooks of classical rhetoric: 'This indulgence has to stop. Because it is dangerous. It is dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us. Dangerous if they think they can use weakness, our hesitation, even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace, against us. Dangerous because one day they will mistake our innate revulsion against war for permanent incapacity.'"
    (Anthony Lane, "The Prime Minister." The New Yorker, March 31, 2003)

Diacope in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

  • Cleopatra: O sun,
    Burn the great sphere thou movest in! darkling stand
    The varying shore o' the world. O Antony,
    Antony, Antony! Help, Charmian, help, Iras, help;
    Help, friends below; let's draw him hither.
    Antony: Peace!
    Not Caesar's valour hath o'erthrown Antony,
    But Antony's hath triumph'd on itself.
    Cleopatra: So it should be, that none but Antony
    Should conquer Antony; but woe 'tis so!
    Antony: I am dying, Egypt, dying; only
    I here importune death awhile, until
    Of many thousand kisses the poor last
    I lay upon thy lips.
    (William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act Four, scene 15)
    "Throughout the text [of Antony and Cleopatra] we find not rational and syllogistic logic, but persuasive figures that indicate tension, friction and explosion. . . . The play is filled with exclamations of vehemence and hyperbole, made more emphatic by the undercurrent of the colloquial. For example the iteration of thou at 4.2.11, the device ploce, works to construct conversational ease; at the same time the repetition of words with one or more in between, or diacope, although similar to ploce, has a very insistent and desperate effect, as in Cleopatra's 'help' at 4.15.13-14."
    (Sylvia Adamson, et al., Reading Shakespeare's Dramatic Language: A Guide. Thomson Learning, 2001)

Types of Diacope

  • "Diacope comes in a number of forms. The simplest is the vocative diacope: Live, baby, live. Yeah, baby, yeah. I am dying, Egypt, dying. Game over, man, game over. Zed's dead, baby, Zed's dead. All you do is chuck in somebody's name or their title and repeat. The effect is to put in a bit of emphasis, a certain finality, on the second word. . . .
    "The other main form of diacope is the elaboration, where you chuck in an adjective. From sea to shining sea. Sunday bloody Sunday. O Captain! My Captain! Human, all too human. From harmony, from heavenly harmony . . . . or Beauty, real beauty, ends where intellectual expression begins. This form gives you a feeling both of precision (we're not talking about fake beauty) and crescendo (it's not merely a sea, it's a shining sea)."
    (Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. Icon Books, 2013)

The Lighter Side of Diacope

  • "Someone ate the baby,
    It's rather sad to say.
    Someone ate the baby
    So she won't be out to play.
    We'll never hear her whiny cry
    Or have to feel if she is dry.
    We'll never hear her asking, 'Why?'
    Someone ate the baby."
    (Shel Silverstein, "Dreadful." Where the Sidewalk Ends. Harper & Row, 1974)
    "I'm gonna cut out now with this unusual song I'm dedicating to an unusual person who makes me feel kind of unusual."
    (Christian Slater as Mark Hunter in Pump Up the Volume, 1990)
    "I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it."
    (Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts)

Pronunciation: di AK oh pee

Also Known As: semi-reduplication

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Diacope Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/diacope-rhetoric-term-1690443. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Diacope Rhetoric. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/diacope-rhetoric-term-1690443 Nordquist, Richard. "Diacope Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/diacope-rhetoric-term-1690443 (accessed June 3, 2023).