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chiasmus (ki-AZ-muhs) noun

A rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel structures.

[New Latin, from Greek khiasmos, syntactic inversion, from khiazein, to invert or mark with an X.]

"As a literary and rhetorical device, chiasmus has woven itself into the fabric of human life. The greatest speeches of all time would be weaker without chiasmus. What other words could JFK have used to rival his famous `Ask not what your country can do for you' line."
Dr. Mardy Grothe; Never Let A Fool Kiss You or A Kiss Fool You; Viking, 1999.

I've taken the citation for today's word from a new book "Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you," a delightful collection of chiasmi compiled by Dr. Mardy Grothe. Grothe is clearly a man taken by his passion as he confesses, "I didn't just get into chiasmus, chiasmus also got into me." About his experience compiling the book and his expectations from it, he notes, "I've had a wealth of experience, so I guess I'm hoping this book will provide me with ... an experience of wealth. The book is a veritable mine of chiasmi with such gems as,

It may be compared to a cage
the birds without try desperately to get in,
and those within try desperately to get out.
-Michel de Montaigne, on marriage

It is not my interest to pay the principal
nor is it my principle to pay the interest
-Richard Brinsely Sheridan, to a lender

Even better are implied chiasmus such as,

Time's fun when you're having flies.
-Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson)

For more chiastic pleasure, visit https://chiasmus.com/ . Would you like to share the fun of words and words of fun? Craft an original chiasmus and email it to garg AT wordsmith.org. I'll feature selected chiasmi here next week. And for the rest of this week, we'll see some other words about words. -Anu


A fool always finds some greater fool to admire him. -Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux, French poet (1636-1711)

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