Prolepsis or Rhetorical Anticipation

prolepsis: crystal ball
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  1. In rhetoric, prolepsis is foreseeing and forestalling objections to an argument. Adjective: proleptic. Similar to procatalepsis. Also called anticipation.
  2. Similarly, prolepsis is a figurative device by which a future event is presumed to have already occurred.

Etymology: From the Greek, "preconception, anticipation"

Examples and Observations

A. C. Zijderveld: In the ancient art of rhetoric, prolepsis stood for the anticipation of possible objections to a speech. This anticipation enabled the speaker to provide answers to objections before anyone had the chance to even raise them. In other words, the speaker takes the role/attitude of the listener while preparing or delivering his speech, and he tries to assess in advance what possible objections could be raised.

Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff: In 1963, Nobel Prize-winning economist William Vickrey suggested that [automobile] insurance be included in the purchase of tires. Anticipating the objection that this might lead people to drive on bald tires, Vickrey said drivers should get credit for the remaining tread when they turn in a tire. Andrew Tobias proposed a variation on this scheme in which insurance would be included in the price of gasoline. That would have the added benefit of solving the problem of uninsured motorists (roughly 28% of California drivers). As Tobias points out, you can drive a car without insurance, but you can't drive it without gasoline.

Leo van Lier: [P]rolepsis is a form of looking ahead, of assuming something to be the case before it has been encountered, a foreshadowing in some sense. Novelists do this all the time when they hint at things to come, or when they omit information, almost as if they thought the reader already knew it. The result of such prolepsis [is] that the reader (or hearer) creates, rather than passively receives, the information necessary to complete the scene or circumstances that the writer (or speaker) merely hints at.

Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray: In the movie The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Luke Skywalker says, 'I'm not afraid,' to which Jedi master Yoda responds, 'You will be.' Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) contains proleptic scenes of future nuclear devastation envisioned by a woman whose son is the target of a robot sent back in time to kill him.

Brendan McGuigan: Procatalepsis is another relative of the hypophora. While the hypophora can ask any sort of question, the procatalepsis deals specifically with objections, and it usually does so without even asking the question, as in this example: "Many other experts want to classify Sanskrit as an extinct language, but I do not." By directly addressing objections, procatalepsis lets the writer further his or her argument and satisfy readers at the same time. Strategically, procatalepsis shows your readers that you have anticipated their concern, and have already thought them through. It is, therefore, especially effective in argumentative essays.

Pronunciation: pro-LEP-sis

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Prolepsis or Rhetorical Anticipation." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Prolepsis or Rhetorical Anticipation. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Prolepsis or Rhetorical Anticipation." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).