In rhetoric, a climax (Greek: κλῖμαξ, klîmax, lit. "staircase" or "ladder") is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, or clauses are arranged in order of increasing importance. In its use with clauses, it is also sometimes known as auxesis (lit. "growth").
Climax is frequently used in persuasion (particularly advertising) to create false dilemmas and to focus attention on the positive aspects of the subject at hand. The initial inferior options make the final term seem still better by comparison than it would appear in isolation: "X is good, Y is better, Z is best" is a standard format. It can also be used in reverse to make the initial term seem better by comparison: "A isn't perfect but B is worse and C is worst."
- "There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
- "I think we've reached a point of great decision, not just for our nation, not only for all humanity, but for life upon the earth."
- "...Lost, vaded, broken, dead within an hour."
An anticlimax or anti-climax is an abrupt descent (either deliberate or unintended) on the part of a speaker or writer from the dignity of idea which he appeared to be aiming at, as in:
- "The English poet Herrick expressed the same sentiment when he suggested that we should gather rosebuds while we may. Your elbow is in the butter, sir."
As a relative term, anticlimax requires a greater or lesser climax to precede it in order to have proper effect. An anticlimax can be intentionally employed only for a jocular or satiric purpose. It frequently partakes of the nature of antithesis, as in:
- "Die and endow a college or a cat."
- Corbett and Connors, 1999. p. 57
Baldick, 2008. p. 59
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 677. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
- Baldick, 2008. p. 31
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
- Wald, George (4 March 1969), A Generation in Search of a Future
- Shakespeare, William, The Passionate Pilgrim, XIII
- Chisholm 1911, p. 123.
- Wodehouse, P.G., Much Obliged, Jeeves
- Baldrick, Chris. 2008. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press. New York. ISBN 978-0-19-920827-2
- Corbett, Edward P. J. and Connors, Robert J. 1999. Style and Statement. Oxford University Press. New York, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-511543-0
- Kennedy, X.J. et al. 2006. The Longman Dictionary of Literary Terms: Vocabulary for the Informed Reader. Pearson, Longman. New York. ISBN 0-321-33194-X
- Forsyth, Mark. 2014. The Elements of Eloquence. Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin Publishing. New York. ISBN 978-0-425-27618-1
- Quinn, Edward. 1999. A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms. Checkmark Books. New York. ISBN 0-8160-4394-9
- "Silva Rhetorica". rhetoric.byu.edu.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911), "Anticlimax", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 123