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Pronunciation: sê-lep-sis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A figure of speech in which a word is applied to two different related words in different senses, e.g. "He caught a train and a cold." 2. The use of a word to modify two or more words while agreeing with only one, e.g. "Neither he or we are included." 3. A taking together, a summary.

Notes: In the first sense (only), today's word is an absolute synonym of zeugma. The adjective is either sylleptic or sylleptical. Only the latter can render an adverb, sylleptically. The plural of this words, like all Latin and Greek borrowings ending on -is (crisis, analysis), is syllepses.

In Play: Syllepsis often involves the use of words literally and figuratively, like "Make love, not war." Again, "She blew her coffee and then my mind with the conversation that followed." Authors often use syllepsis. In Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer we find "[They] covered themselves with dust and glory." In The Pickwick Papers of Charles Dickens we see: "Miss Bolo ... went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan-chair."

Word History: Syllepsis was borrowed straight from the Late Latin word, which Latin borrowed from Greek. The word in ancient Greek was composed of syl-, an assimilated form of syn- "(together) with" + lepsis "a taking", from lambanein "to take". Greek put this verb together from PIE (s)lagw- "to seize, grab", source also of Sanskrit rabhate "seizes", Greek lemma "something taken (for granted)", Lithuanian lobis "treasure, wealth" and Old English læccan "to seize, grasp", which made it down to Modern English as (to) latch. (Debbie Moggio wondered about the difference between syllepsis and zeugma. I thought we all might be interested in the question.)

Dr. Goodword,

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