What Is Auxesis in Writing and Speech?

"Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird . . . it’s a plane . . . it’s Superman!" (Auxesis in the opening of The Adventures of Superman, 1950s television series).

A rhetorical term for a gradual increase in the intensity of meaning with words arranged in ascending order of force or importance. Adjective: auxetic. Etymologically the term auxesis is a Greek word that means growth, increase or amplification. Hyperbole is a form of auxesis which intentionally exaggerates a point or it's significance. Here are some other examples of auxesis. 

Examples of Auxesis From Literature

"It's a well hit ball, it's a long drive, it might be, it could be, it IS .

. . a home run."
(American baseball broadcaster Harry Carey)

"Jeans That Can
Lengthen Legs
Hug Hips
& Turn Heads"
(advertisement for Rider Jeans)

"Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward room, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. . . .

"The notice which you have been pleased to take of my Labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it, till I am solitary and cannot impart it, till I am known and do not want it."
(Samuel Johnson, letter to the Earl of Chesterfield, February 1755)

"It is a sin to bind a Roman citizen, a crime to scourge him, little short of the most unnatural murder to put him to death; what then shall I call this crucifixion?"
(Cicero, Against Verres)

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."
(Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven")

Shakespearean Auxesis

"And he, repulsed--a short tale to make--
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness; and by this declension
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we wail for."
(Polonius in Act II, scene two of Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

"Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power."
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65)

Richard Lanham on Auxesis and Climax

"Auxesis is usually not listed by theorists as synonymous with the Climax/Anadiplosis cluster of terms, but the difference between auxesis, in its main sense of augmentation, and climax is a fine one. . . . The difference between the auxesis and climax clusters seems to be that in the climax cluster, the climactic series is realized through linked pairs of terms. One might therefore say that the auxesis cluster is a figure of amplification and the climax cluster a scheme of arrangement. Observing this distinction, however, we can call a climactic series a climax only when the terms are linked."
(Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. Univ. of California Press, 1991)

Henry Peacham on Auxesis and Incrementum

"By the figure auxesis, the orator doth make a low dwarf a tall fellow . . . of pebble stones, pearls; and of thistles, mighty oaks. . . .

"Incrementum, when by degrees we ascend to the top of something, or rather above the top; that is, when we make our saying grow and increase by an orderly placing of our words, making the latter word always exceed the former . . .. In this figure, order must be diligently observed, that the stronger may follow the weaker, and the worthier the less worthy; otherwise, you shall not increase the oration, but make a mingle-mangle, as doth the ignorant, or else make a great heap, as doth congeries."
(Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, 1577)

Quintilian on Auxesis

"For sentences should rise and grow in force: of this an excellent example is provided by Cicero, where he says, 'You, with that throat, those lungs, that strength, that would do credit to a prizefighter, in every limb of your body'; for there each phrase is followed by one stronger than the last, whereas, if he had begun by referring to his whole body, he could scarcely have gone on to speak of his lungs and throat without an anticlimax."
(Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria. Trans. by H.E. Butler)