Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Words Matter, Even the Humble, Hard-Working Word “And”

This is no sob story. While you will read words laced with bitterness and killing anger and vicious envy, words of violence and sadness and, hopefully, dark humor, you will not read much whining. Not on her part, certainly, because she does not know how.
--from Bragg, Rick, All Over But the Shoutin’. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. xiii.

In this compelling, short paragraph, Bragg used the humble, oft-unnoticed, hard-working word “and” four times to separate descriptors for the noun “words.” He says readers will read words “laced with bitterness and killing anger and vicious envy, words of violence and sadness and, … dark humor.” A comma could easily replace the first and third uses of “and” so why does Bragg use them? What do those two “ands” add in this context?

The humble conjunction taking the place of a comma between items in a list adds distinction and emphasis to each descriptor. Each descriptive word has more weight as an item unto itself, and that is by design.

That is also a fine writing technique known as polysyndeton:

Polysyndeton (paulee-SIN-dih-tawn): Figure of addition and emphasis which intentionally employs a series of conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) not normally found in successive words, phrases, or clauses; the deliberate and excessive use of conjunctions in successive words or clauses. --from an online resource: American Rhetoric: Rhetorical Figures in Sound

Click on the link above to go directly to the site. There you will see other excellent examples of polysyndeton from the Bible, Katherine Hepburn, FDR, and Vince Lombardi.

Reading Challenge:

Read All Over But the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg’s poignant tribute to a mother’s love and devotion.

Writing Challenge:

Identify a passage from your own writing journal that could profit from polysyndeton.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach