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An anacoluthon (// AN-ə-kə-LOO-thon; from the Greek, anakolouthon, from an-: 'not' + akolouthos: 'following') is a rhetorical device that can be defined as wording ignoring syntax. This is achieved by transposing clauses. Anacoluthon often contains a sentence interrupted halfway. The sentence then has a change in form. An example is the Italian proverb "The good stuff – think about it." This proverb urges us to choose the most qualitative alternative.
- Had ye been there – for what could that have done? (John Milton in Lycidas)
- "Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
- That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
- Let him depart."
Additionally, Conrad Aiken's Rimbaud and Verlaine has an extended anacoluthon as it discusses anacoluthon:
- "Discussing, between moves, iamb and spondee
- Anacoluthon and the open vowel
- God the great peacock with his angel peacocks
- And his dependent peacocks the bright stars..."
Due to a poor cut-and-paste job of a new title onto the original, the film Attack of the Eye Creatures (originally just The Eye Creatures) appears to be Attack of the The Eye Creatures. When the film was shown on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel identifies the mistake as an anacoluthon.
The word anacoluthon is a transliteration of the Greek ἀνακόλουθον (anakólouthon), which derives from the privative prefix ἀν- (an-) and the root adjective ἀκόλουθος (akólouthos), "following". This, incidentally, is precisely the meaning of the Latin phrase non sequitur in logic. However, in Classical rhetoric anacoluthon was used both for the logical error of non sequitur and for the syntactic effect or error of changing an expected following or completion to a new or improper one.
Use of the term
The term "anacoluthon" is used primarily within an academic context. It is most likely to appear in a study of rhetoric or poetry. For example The King's English, an English style guide written by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler mentions it as a major grammatical mistake.
"We can hardly conclude even so desultory a survey of grammatical misdemeanours as this has been without mentioning the most notorious of all. The anacoluthon is a failure to follow on, an unconscious departure from the grammatical scheme with which a sentence was started, the getting switched off, imperceptibly to the writer, very noticeably to his readers, from one syntax track to another."
The term does occasionally appear in popular media as well. The word, though not the underlying meaning (see malapropism), has been popularized, due to its use as an imprecation by Captain Haddock in the English translations of The Adventures of Tintin series of books.
Anacoluthon is sometimes (wrongly) confused with anacoloutha, a term that denotes metaphorical substitutions.
- Aiken, Conrad. Selected Poems. London: OUP, 2003. 141.
- Brown, Huntington and Albert W. Halsall. "Anacoluthon" in Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan, eds., The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. 67-8.
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 671–673. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
- "Anacoluthon - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- Alla buona derrata, pensaci su, from Mawr, E.B. (1885). Analogous Proverbs in Ten Languages. p. 116.