To Wit: An E-zine On How To Be a Wit
Opposites Attract Attention
Once when I was a kid, I got into an argument with Billy. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said Billy. “Ignorance of the law is the only excuse,” I said. Billy froze. Then Billy muttered, “Well, it’s still no excuse.” I realized that given two things that sounded good, Billy couldn’t tell the difference between them, and he had no other way to judge true and false. That was the first time I remember using the technique that I am going to tell you about this month
Some words are remembered; some are forgotten. Some words hold peoples’ attention; some words are background noise. Would you like your words to keep peoples’ attention? There is a common, easy way to do it. It is as easy as putting contrasting or opposite ideas close together. Since the time of the ancient Greeks it’s been called “antithesis.”
The three kinds of antithesis are single, serial, and double. Let’s take them one at a time.
For single antithesis, you place two contrasting words or phrases near each other. For example:
“easy come, easy go.”
There are a few tricks for constructing single antithesis:
By serial antithesis, I mean simply a series of single antitheses. For example, Winston Churchill said of the British government before WW II:
Why didn’t Churchill just call the government “irresolute?” That would be quicker. Why use serial antithesis?
For double antithesis, you use more than one word in the first half and their opposites in the second half. Here’s how Abraham Lincoln used it in the Gettysburg Address:
Churchill was great at it. In The Malakand Field Force, he wrote:
pass with relief from the tossing sea of Cause
Wow: tossing sea, firm ground; cause, result; theory, fact: triple antithesis, and one of them a metaphor.
Another time he said:
What do you use antithesis for? You can use antithesis to express the contradictions, the ironies in life.
We are caught in war,
You can use antithesis for persuasion and motivation by comparing
You can make people pay attention to your words. You can phrase your ideas so that, instead of immediately forgetting your words, people will try to memorize them to repeat to others. Antithesis is one of the easiest and most powerful techniques for crafting memorable phrases. Try it for yourself.
|Thomas Christopher, Ph.D.: Seminars,
1140 Portland Place #205, Boulder CO 80304, 303-709-5659, email@example.com
Books through Prentice Hall PTR, albeit not related to wit: High-Performance Java Platform Computing, ISBN: 0130161640, Web Programming in Python, ISBN: 0-13-041065-9, Python Programming Patterns, ISBN: 0-13-040956-1