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Figures of speech in college football
Malamute, 26 February 2008

College football writers of America it is time to dust off your figures of speech, for spring football lies just ahead. You need to practice your writing skills before the kids practice their offensive and defensive skills – say, their drive blocks and swim moves.

I’m here to help you.

As every writer knows, a “trope” is a word or expression used in a figurative sense, such as a simile or metaphor. Schemes are figures of speech in which there is a deviation from the ordinary or expected pattern of words.

Hey, you know what chiasmus means, don’t you? Well, I didn’t. Let me say, though, a chiasmus should be part of your new playbook, my friend, the old A B B A play, which runs counter to the parallel-structure play (A B A B) you learned in high school.

Well, here are some examples of tropes and schemes that relate to the Washington Huskies next season, all relevant to their past, present and future. The definitions are taken from Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia, and the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

So, if your editor wants you to mix things up, to run a chiasmus, an anaphora, and a zeugma the next time you cover the field, you’ll be ready.

  • Anadiplosis
    : “Repetition of a word at the end of a clause at the beginning of another.”

    Example: Under Jim Owens, playing tough defense meant hard hitting. Hard hitting meant getting someone hurt. Getting hurt was not allowed.

  • Anaphora: “The repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses.”

    Example: As offensive coordinator Tim Lappano might say, “block the linebackers, block the ends; block what’s left as this season wends.” <Editor's note: comically poetic. IOW, stupid.>

  • Anastrophe: “Inversion of the usual word order.”

    Example: Comes alive the Husky crowd, as our defense sacks the quarterback. Comes alive the Husky offense, as field position holds sway. (The crowd comes or came alive.)


  • Antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, in reverse order.

    Example: Coach Hart likes the front four; our front four likes coach Hart.

    An elliptical antimetabole: Coach Hart likes his front four, and vice versa.


  • Antanaclasis is a form of a pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses.”

    Example: The Huskies’ defense must strike with malice, lest boosters go on strike.

  • Aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage

    Example: A good defense trumps a good offense, and vice versa. 

    When Ta’amu is ready to jump in the water, Middleton should swim beside him.

  • Paralipsis: “Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over.”

    Example: Coach Willingham should win six games this season, not to mention that he is on the hot seat.

  • Anthimeria (e.g., use of noun as if it were a verb.)

    Example: Out field-positioning the opposition was critical to the win. The PSA tripped to Seattle.

  • Neologism (e.g, a word created because of a new situation)

    Example: A Tyrone-ism is just a truism couched laconically. 

  • Paradiastole is a euphemism to soften the force of a naming a vice or virtue.

    Example: According to the media, some members of Washington’s last Rose Bowl team acted like Robin Hood’s band of men off the field, they were charming rogues.

  • Pathetic fallacy: Giving inanimate objects human feelings.

    Example: Husky Stadium will laugh at Charlie Weis on October 25, as Tyrone exacts revenge against the Irish.

  • Zeugma is a figure of speech describing the joining of two or more parts of a sentence with a single common verb or noun.

    Example: Against BYU, Jake Locker will adroitly lead the Huskies on the field and to a locker room celebration afterwards.

  • Zoomorphism, in one form, means the viewing of human behavior in terms of the behavior of animals.

    Example: Against the Bruins, Jake at the lake will play with the heart of a lion.

  • Allusion: H. Abrams defined allusion as "a brief reference, explicit or indirect, to a person, place or event, or to another literary work or passage."


    1.   Rick Neuheisel’s return to Husky Stadium will be a Catch-22. (A no win situation)

    2.   Some say that Art Thiel’s view of refurbishing Husky Stadium is a Cassandra. (Cassandra was a “daughter of Priam endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed.”)

  • Hendiatris is the use of three words to express one idea.

    Example: A concise, pithy, terse Tyrone spoke to the media after the win over USC.

  • Paradox: In one sense of the word, paradox is a “statement or sentiment that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet perhaps true in fact.”


    Completing more passes than before could mean less passing yardage this season if short passes hold sway.

  • Irony: Use of a word or words in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its literal meaning, or “the incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.”


    1.   Winning to some football fans means keeping the police blotter clean.

    2.   The trap block sprung the back.

    3.   Although they were not central to the story’s theme, the levying of unsubstantiated criminal charges against at least 20 unnamed players and the pillorying of a fallen hero both became the story.

  • Malapropism: “The comical use of a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar.” You dunderheads need to avoid malapropisms.


    1.   The running back crossed the goal line giving “his manly” pose. (Heisman pose).

    2.   The wide out ran a churl. (Curl).

    3.   Coach Willingham has “panned” the media from practices. (Banned).

    4.   At times, Coach Baird sounds like a Domer. (Homer).

  • Litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite.

    Example: Locker’s play was not too shabby. (Good to excellent).

  • Meiosis “is a figure of speech that intentionally understates something or implies that it is lesser in significance or size than it really is.”

    Example: Mike Price’s loss in the 2002 Apple Cup can be considered a moral victory because of a controversial ruling.

  • Asyndeton is a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses.

    Example: Locker came to play, he came to win, he came to Eugene, a city of sin.

  • Chiasmus is an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases. The elements of a simple chiasmus are often labeled in the form A B B A, where the letters correspond to grammar, words, or meaning.

    1.   Example: The last sentence is a parallel structure; the first is a chiasmus.

    His passing efficiency topped 140 and 140 was his benchmark. (A B B A). His passing efficiency topped 140 and his benchmark was 140. (A B A B)..

    2.   Tyrone’s next season? A six-win season seems impossible with three treacherous games at its beginning. Winning less than half the season’s twelve games means his hot seat will catch fire.

    This notion can be expressed using poetic chiasmus, something that former P-I columnist Royal Brougham might have written.

    (A B A B)

    Hard to climb at the start, the goal is set too high; anything less than half way up, the mountain will erupt.

    (A B B A)

    Hard to climb at the start, the goal is set too high; the mountain will erupt, anything less than half way up.


    Maybe my editor was right? Trip? I didn't mean it that way.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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