metaplasm (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

metaplasm in rhetoric
"When Portia [in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice] speaks of the quality of mercy not being 'strained,' few will recognize this as a metaplasmus at all; lopping off the first syllable of 'constrained' so enriches the word that we are prepared to do without the primary meaning" (Arthur Quinn in Figures of Speech, 1993). (Culture Club/Getty Images)


Metaplasm is a rhetorical term for any alteration in the form of a word, in particular the addition, subtraction, or substitution of letters or sounds. Adjective: metaplasmic. Also known as metaplasmus or effective misspelling.

In poetry, a metaplasm may be used intentionally for the sake of meter or rhyme.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


From the Greek, "remold"

Examples and Observations

  • "Metaplasm is the general name given for orthographic figures, figures which change the spelling (or sound) of a word without changing its meaning. Such changes are common, for instance, in the permutations to which first names are subjected in ordinary speech. Edward can become Ward or Ed. Ed can become Eddie or Ned or Ted. Ted can become Tad."
    (Theresa Enos, ed., Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition. Taylor & Francis, 1996)
  • Poe's Use of Epenthesis
    "[One] type of metaplasm is epenthesis, the insertion of a letter, sound, or syllable to the middle of a word (see Dupriez, 166). 'The Man That Was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign' offers an instance of this type of [Edgar Allan] Poe's linguistic humour:
    "Smith?" said he, in his well-known peculiar way of drawing out his syllables; "Smith?--why, not General John A - B - C.? Savage affair that with the Kickapo-o-o-os, wasn't it? Say, don't you think so?--perfect despera-a-ado--great pity, 'pon my honor!--wonderfully inventive age!-- pro-o-digies of valor! By the by, did you ever hear about Captain Ma-a-a-a-n?" . . .
    We may wonder why a writer would resort to such a device, but clearly Poe illustrates its comedic potential. As well, a device like this can help us distinguish between Poe's characters, stylistically, for he has enough comedic good sense to limit a device like this to one character--to make it a linguistic idiosyncrasy rather than to overuse it."
    (Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005)
  • Etymologies
    "The Chancellor turned to look at me. 'Master Linguist,' he announced himself formally. 'Re'lar Kvothe: What is the etymology of the word ravel?'

    "'It comes from the purges instigated by Emperor Aleyon,' I said. 'He issued a proclamation saying any of the traveling rabble on the roads were subject to fine, imprisonment, or transportation without trial. The term became shortened to "ravel" though metaplasmic enclitization.'

    "He raised an eyebrow at that. 'Did it now?'"
    (Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear. DAW, 2011)
  • Types of Metaplasmic Figures
    "[P]erhaps we can crudely distinguish between metaplasmic figures which improve the sound and those which complicate the sense. This distinction, despite its roughness, can help us see the point of usages which otherwise might just seem strange. Lewis Carroll has Humpty Dumpty explain to Alice (and to us) that when he uses the word 'slithy' he means both 'sly' and 'lithe.' Thereby, Carroll has given to us an insight into his own practice and that of other 'nonsense' writers as well. And we don't need Carroll to explain to us what Disareli meant when he spoke of 'anecdotage.' And it is not far from Humpty Dumpty and anecdotage to that Irish wag of genius, James Joyce. In Ulysses Joyce uses all the metaplasmic figures (and virtually all the other figures as well). But it is in his Finnegans Wake that misspelling achieves its apotheosis into a dominant literary technique. (Even the most trivial figures, it seems, are not so trivial after all.)"
    (Arthur Quinn, Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Hermagoras, 1993)
  • Donna Haraway on Metaplasm
    "Metaplasm is my favorite trope these days. It means remolding or remodeling. I want my writing to be read as an orthopedic practice for learning how to remold kin links to help make a kinder and unfamiliar world. It was Shakespeare who taught me about the sometimes violent play between kin and kind at the dawn of 'modernity.'"
    (Donna Haraway, Introduction to The Haraway Reader. Routledge, 2003)
  • The Lighter Side of Metaplasm
    Hurley: Let me ask you something, Arnzt.
    Mr. Artz: Artz.
    Hurley: Arnzt.
    Mr. Artz: No, not Arnzt. Arzt. A-R-Z-T. Arzt.
    Hurley: Sorry man, name's hard to pronounce.
    Mr. Artz: Oh yeah, well I know a bunch of ninth graders who pronounce it just fine.
    (Jorge Garcia and Daniel Roebuck in "Exodus: Part 1." Lost, 2005)


Pronunciation: MET-eh-PLAZ-em

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Nordquist, Richard. "metaplasm (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, Nordquist, Richard. (2016, August 9). metaplasm (rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "metaplasm (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).