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Let’s wave to the Antanaclasis wave

Antanaclasis is a figure of speech wherein the same word is used in two contrasting meanings in one sentence – Roopa Banerjee

Philosopher-politician and one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) famously said: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” This statement is striking because of the ingenious use of the word ‘hang’ to convey two different meanings within the same sentence. The first ‘hang’ means ‘stay’ or ‘stand’, while the second time it refers to being ‘hanged’ or ‘executed’. This dual use of a word or phrase where it means something different each time it appears in a sentence is known as antanaclasis.

Derived from the Greek word, antanáklasis which literally translates as reflection, it’s a figure of speech in which one word is used in two contrasting (and sometimes comic) meanings in one sentence. This wordplay makes antanaclasis a popular choice for slogans and maxims, especially in the advertising world.

Antanaclasis is also a type of pun, although not all puns are antanaclasis. To qualify as antanaclasis, the word must be repeated within the same sentence. Puns don’t require either. Also, a pun can be homophonic i.e, it can be formed with two words that sound alike. Puns can also be homographic — formed by words with different meanings, but spelt the same. Antanaclasis cannot be homophonic; it has to be homographic, as with the different meanings of the word ‘hang’ in Benjamin Franklin’s statement. In short, all antanaclasis are puns, but not all puns are antanaclasis.

Playwright William Shakespeare had a particular fondness for antanaclasis. He used it with equal adeptness for comedy and tragedy. In Henry V, the clownish Ancient Pistol declares: “To England will I steal, and there I’ll steal.” In the first usage, steal refers to sneak away and in the second, to an act of theft.

The bard uses this literary device again in Othello. Towards the end of the play, Othello enters Desdemona’s chamber with the intention to kill her because he is convinced that she is unfaithful to him. A candle burns in her bedroom. Othello says:

“Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. Put out the light, and then put out the light.”

Obviously, the first ‘light’ refers to the candle, while the second to Desdemona’s life.

Antanaclasis lends itself beautifully to chorus or refrain of songs because of its witty repetition. For instance in the song Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder, the lines: “Just because a record has a groove, Don’t make it in the groove.”

The first ‘groove’ refers to the record grooves that the needles of records run through to create sound. The second time it refers to making people dance.

Interestingly, even the music genre of rap uses antanaclasis to create impact. For instance the song Iggy SZN by Australian recording artist Iggy Azalea has this sentence: “I’m drinking PJ on a PJ in my PJs”

Here, the first PJ stands for pineapple juice. The second refers to a private jet while the last PJ refers to pyjamas.

The world of advertising is filled with examples of antanaclasis. “The long cigarette that’s long on flavour” was the eye-catching slogan of Pall Mall Cigarettes. The classic slogan of Coca Cola “People on the go . . . go for Coke” meant that busy and successful people buy Coca Cola. The Washington Post worked on people’s fear of missing out the news by coining the slogan “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”


Match the following examples of antanaclasis with the person who said or wrote them:

1. Those who are not fired with enthusiasm, will be fired, with enthusiasm.
2. I’m not a business man, I am a business, man!
3. Your argument is sound… all sound.
4. Although we’re apart, you’re still a part of me.

a. Lyrics from “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino.
b. Benjamin Franklin
c. American football coach Vince Lombardi
d. Jay-Z

1-c, 2-d, 3-b, 4-a

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