All writers want to grab the attention of their readers and keep them engaged long enough to pull them into the story. Whatever type of writing you do, you’ve probably used a few literary devices like metaphors, foreshadowing and satire to hook your audience.
You can find hundreds of complex and sophisticated techniques to use in your creative writing, like clever repetition to emphasize a point. At first it may feel lazy to use the same word twice, but learning how to create antanaclasis phrases can transform your writing from average to page-turning.
What Does Antanaclasis Mean?
At its core, an antanaclasis is a particular type of pun or figure of speech. Commonly used to create irony or stir up drama with descriptive writing, the same word is repeated throughout the text but given a different meaning each time. To make your antanaclasis phrase make sense, you’ll need to use a homonym, or word which is spelled and pronounced the same way but has two or more meanings.
An antanaclasis can look similar to other common tropes, so it’s important to understand the difference between them.
A polyptoton, for example, repeats a similar word from the same root, but isn’t actually repeating the exact same phrase in the same way an antanaclasis would—enjoy/enjoyable, trick/trickery and hurry/hurried are all polyptotons.
Alternatively, an epanalepsis is where the same word or phrase is repeated at both the beginning and end of a phrase, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “He is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing.”
To be considered antanaclasis, the words must be repeated within the same sentence or phrase and must use the same word, spelled in the same way, to mean something different in each usage. They’re a handy option to have in your writer’s toolkit when you’re trying to create drama, be more persuasive, or simply inject some comedy as you build your creative writing skills.
The Etymology of Antanaclasis
Like most popular literary devices, the clue to what’s actually happening is found in the word itself. It can feel like you need a degree in Latin or Greek to decipher what it is. But once you become more familiar with word structure and different phrases, you’ll soon be able to figure them out for yourself.
Originating in the Greek antanaklasis or reflection, this particular writing technique can also be remembered more easily when you start breaking it down into separate phrases.
Ant or anti comes from both Greek and Latin to mean against or opposite. Anaklan in Greek means “to bend back”, so you can start to see where this phrase comes from—it’s all about the beginning and ending of the phrase mirroring each other.
You’ll find instances of antanaclasis in almost every type of writing. When you’re struggling with writing inspiration for a poem, song or even slogan for a marketing campaign, it can be helpful to think of some short antanaclasis examples.
You can use these phrases as creative writing prompts or starting points to circle back to later. Maybe you’ll find inspiration in an unlikely place and have a killer quote to use in your work!
Antanaclasis in Literature
The king of literature, William Shakespeare, was a big fan of using antanaclasis. While his references to light in “Othello” may be one of the most famous, plenty of other examples of antanaclasis can give you a better understanding of what this literary device can be used for.
In “Henry V”, you can see several occurrences of antanaclasis, like “to England will I steal, and there I’ll steal.” This clearly shows the double-meaning of the word steal as both theft and creeping away when no one is watching.
Similarly, in “Twelfth Night”, Feste the Fool declares “I will dissemble myself in ‘t, and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown.” This refers to both a disguise, in the first use of the word, and to lie or act dishonorably in the second instance.
Shakespeare certainly wasn’t the only novelist or playwright to use antanaclasis in their work. Poets like Robert Frost also used this trope to boost their creative writing and make it more enticing to readers. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of Frost’s best examples, the the last two lines repeated to mean both rest and death:
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Song Lyrics Using Antanaclasis
You can find thousands of antanaclasis examples in songs and it’s one of the best mediums for this kind of creative writing.
Much like poetry, song lyrics are structured differently from prose sentences and often contain heavily loaded meaning within short snippets of text. As a result, antanaclasis is the ideal tool to add depth when you’re working with a restricted number of words. Classics like “The Duke” by Stevie Wonder are full of antanaclasis lyrics:
“Just because a record has a groove,
Don’t make it in the groove.”
Rap as a genre is well-suited to antanaclasis lyrics, like Iggy Azalea’s “Iggy SZN”, with the line “I’m drinking PJ on a PJ in my PJs.” The PJs stand for pineapple juice, private jet and pajamas.
Advertising Slogans and Antanaclasis
Writing a catchy tagline for a brand is one of the hardest jobs for a marketer. You need something to catch people’s attention and stick in their heads long enough to remind them whose products they should be buying.
Cat food brand Felix is one of the best examples of this, with their slogan “Cats like Felix like Felix”—the cat called Felix, their mascot, and cats like him will enjoy eating their Felix-brand food.
Coca Cola has also used antanaclasis in their advertising, with the catchphrase “People on the go…go for Coke.”
Get Typing, Whatever Your Type of Writing
Antanaclasis phrases can seem tricky to put together but once you’ve written a few, you’ll be surprised how easy they can be to weave into your work.
Keep a list of homonyms next to your desk and, as you write, see where you could possibly fit in a double-meaning to create a memorable sentence you can feel proud of.