What Is Anastrophe in Rhetoric?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not.” (Jedi master Yoda in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, 1983). Chesnot/Getty Images

Anastrophe is a rhetorical term for the inversion of conventional word order. Adjective: anastrophic. Related to transferred epithet and also known as hyperbaton, transcensio, transgressio, and tresspasser, the term derives from Greek and meaning "turning upside down".

Anastrophe is most commonly used to emphasize one or more of the words that have been reversed.

Richard Lanham notes that "Quintilian would confine anastrophe to a transposition of two words only, a pattern Puttenham mocks with 'In my years lusty, many a deed doughty did I'" (A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 1991).

Examples and Observations of Anastrophe

  • "Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. . . . This one a long time have I watched. . . . Never his mind on where he was." (Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980)
  • "Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer." (Winston Churchill, address delivered at the Guildhall, London, September 14, 1914)
  • "Gracious she was. By gracious I mean full of graces. . . .
    "Intelligent she was not. In fact, she veered in the opposite direction."
    (Max Shulman, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Doubleday, 1951)
  • "Clear, placid Leman! thy contrasted lake
    With the wild world I dwelt in."
    (Lord Byron, Childe Harold)
  • "From the Land of Sky Blue Waters,
    From the land of pines' lofty balsams,
    Comes the beer refreshing,
    Hamm's the beer refreshing."
    (Jingle for Hamm's Beer, with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart)
  • "Talent, Mr. Micawber has; capital, Mr. Micawber has not." (Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1848)
  • Corie Bratter: Six days does not a week make.
    Paul Bratter:
    What does that mean?
    Corie Bratter:
    I don't know!
    (Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park, 1967)

Timestyle and New Yorker Style

  • "A ghastly ghoul prowled around a cemetery not far from Paris. Into family chapels went he, robbery of the dead intent upon." ("Foreign News Notes," Time magazine, June 2, 1924)
  • "Backward ran sentences until reels the mind. . . . Where it all will end, knows God!" (Wolcott Gibbs, from a parody of Time magazine. The New Yorker, 1936)
  • "Today almost forgotten is Timestyle, overheated method of newswriting by which, in Roaring Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Time sought to put mark on language of Shakespeare, Milton. Featured in adjective-studded Timestyle were inverted syntax (verbs first, nouns later), capitalized compound epithets (Cinemactor Clark Gable, Radiorator H. V. Kaltenborn), astounding neologisms (rescued from Asiatic obscurity were Tycoon, Pundit & Mogul, oft-used still by newshawks, newshens), sometime omission of definite, indefinite articles, ditto final 'and's in series except when replaced by ampersands. Utterly unlike Timestyle was New Yorker style. Relied latter heavily then, relies it still on grammatical fanaticism, abhorrence of indirection, insistence on comma before final 'and' in series. Short, snappy were Time’s paragraphs. Long, languid were The New Yorker’s." (Hendrik Hertzberg, "Luce vs. Ross." The New Yorker, Feb. 21, 2000)

Emphatic Word Order

  • "Anastrophe often is used to add emphasis. Consider a comic example. In a Dilbert cartoon strip published on March 5, 1998, the pointy-haired boss announces that he will begin using the 'chaos theory of management.' Dilbert's co-worker Wally replies, 'And this will be different how?' Normally, we would place the interrogative adverb 'how' at the beginning of the sentence (as in 'How would this be different?'). By deviating from the normal word order, Wally places extra emphasis on the question of difference. Wally's extra emphasis suggests that the new theory will not dramatically change the boss's behavior." (James Jasinski, Sourcebook of Rhetoric. Sage, 2001)

Anastrophe in Films

  • " Anastrophe is an unusual arrangement, an inversion of what is logical or normal, in literature of the words of a sentence, in film of the image, in angle, in focus, and in lighting. It comprises all forms of technical distortion. It is clearly a figure to be used rarely, and it is not always certain if it has the effect intended. . . .
    "[I]n the Ballad of a Soldier (Grigori Chukhrai), one of two signalmen is killed, and the other runs, pursued by a German tank. In a down air shot, the camera pans with tank and man, and at one point the scene turns, placing the ground up, the sky bottom right, the chase continuing. Is it the disoriented panic of the man fleeing wildly without plan, or the manic mind of the tank driver, pursuing one man, when he should be addressing himself to the destruction of companies, when, in fact, he could shoot? A bizarre act seems to call for an anastrophic treatment." (N. Roy Clifton, The Figure in Film. Associated University Presses, 1983)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Anastrophe in Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-anastrophe-rhetoric-1689094. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). What Is Anastrophe in Rhetoric? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-anastrophe-rhetoric-1689094 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Anastrophe in Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-anastrophe-rhetoric-1689094 (accessed February 6, 2023).