Using Epanorthosis in Rhetoric

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A figure of speech in which a speaker corrects or comments on something he or she has just said. A retraction (or pseudo-retraction) is a type of epanorthosis. Adjective: epanorthotic.Epanorthosis is also known as 'correctio' or 'self-correction'. The etymology is from the Greek, "setting straight again."

Examples and Observations

  • "Maybe there is a beast. . . . What I mean is . . . maybe it's only us." (Simon in Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1954)​
  • "With a heave of his chest, Croker rose and came walking--or, rather, limping--toward him." (Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full, 1998)​
  • "[A] good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon; or, rather, the sun, and not the moon; for it shines bright and never changes, but keeps his course truly." (King Henry V in Act V, scene two of Henry V by William Shakespeare, 1600)​
  • "I don't like the majority of what I do. I shouldn't say I don't like it, but I'm not satisfied with almost everything that I do." (Paul Simon)​
  • "You don't think we're being . . . I don't want to say 'sleazy,' because that's not the right word, but a little irresponsible, maybe?" (Owen Wilson as John Beckwith, The Wedding Crashers, 2005)​
  • "Epanorthosis, or Correction, is a figure by which we retract or recall what we have spoken, for the sake of substituting something stronger or more suitable in its place... The use of this figure lies in the unexpected interruption it gives to the current of our discourse, by turning the stream as it were back upon itself, and then returning it upon the auditor with redoubled force and precision. The nature of this figure dictates its pronunciation; it is somewhat akin to the parenthesis. What we correct should be so pronounced as to seem the immediate effusion of the moment; for which purpose it does not only require a separation from the rest of the sentence, by an alteration of the voice into a lower tone, but an abrupt discontinuance of the member immediately preceding." (John Walker, A Rhetorical Grammar, 1822)​
  • "He has lately been at work 'telling again,' as they call it, a most gratuitous piece of mischief, and has caused a coolness betwixt me and (not a friend exactly, but) an intimate acquaintance." (Charles Lamb, letter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jan. 10, 1820)​
  • "Thence have I followed it
    (Or it hath drawn me, rather) but 'tis gone." (Ferdinand in The Tempest by William Shakespeare)​
  • "In epanorthosis, or 'setting right,' one thinks better of what one has said and qualifies it or even takes it back, as in Augustine's classic 'Give me chastity and continence--but not yet' (Confessions 8.7). Epanorthosis is particularly revealing of the character of the speaker, in this case, of an untrustworthy soul divided against itself and given more to self-deception than to deception of others." (P. Christopher Smith, The Hermeneutics of Original Argument: Demonstration, Dialectic, Rhetoric. Northwestern Univ. Press, 1998)​
  • "They have a right to more comfort than they at present enjoy; and more comfort might be afforded them, without encroaching on the pleasures of the rich: not now waiting to enquire whether the rich have any right to exclusive pleasures. What do I say?--encroaching! No; if an intercourse were established between them, it would impart the only true pleasure that can be snatched in this land of shadows, this hard school of moral discipline." (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790)​
  • "I should probably have said at the outset I'm noted for having something of a sense of humour, although I have kept myself very much to myself over the last two years notwithstanding, as it were, and it's only as comparatively recently that I began to realize--well, er, perhaps realize is not the correct word, er, imagine, imagine that I was not the only thing in her life." (Michael Palin in episode two of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Using Epanorthosis in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Using Epanorthosis in Rhetoric. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Using Epanorthosis in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).