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Synchysis is a rhetorical technique wherein words are intentionally scattered to create bewilderment, or for some other purpose.[1][2] By disrupting the normal course of a sentence, it forces the audience to consider the meaning of the words and the relationship between them.[3]


  • "I run and shoot, quickly and accurately."
  • "Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear" – Alexander Pope, "Epistle II. To a Lady" (1743)
  • "When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep,
Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep" – Alexander Pope, Essay on Man.
(That is, "When earthquakes swallow towns to one grave, or when tempests sweep whole nations to the deep".)

In poetry[edit]

This poetry form was a favorite with Latin poets. It is described by the website Silva Rhetoricae as "Hyperbaton or anastrophe taken to an obscuring extreme, either accidentally or purposefully." It is doubtful, however, whether it could be correct to describe effects in Latin poetry, which was very carefully written, as accidental.[4]

A synchysis may be opposed to chiasmus, which is a phrase in the form A-B-B-A, either in the same line or in two consecutive lines.

A line of Latin verse in the form adjective A - adjective B - verb - noun A - noun B, with the verb in the center (or a corresponding chiastic line, again with the verb in the center), is known as a golden line. A highly common occurrence in Virgil's Aeneid,[5] an example is aurea purpuream subnectit fibula vestem, "a golden clasp bound her purple cloak" (Virgil, Aeneid 4.139). Usually, synchysis is formed through the adjective A - adjective B - noun A - noun B structure, but it can also exist as adjective-noun-adjective-noun.[6]

Today, it is mainly found in poetry,[7] where poets use it to maintain metre or rhyme.[8]

Examples in Latin poetry[edit]

Catullus notably made use of synchysis in his poetry. Catullus 75 has this line:

Huc est mens deducta tuā mea Lesbia culpa[9]

Taking mea with Lesbia this line reads:

To this point, (my) mind is reduced by your guilt, my Lesbia.

The correct way to translate the line, however, is to take it with the more distant mens, observing Catullus's synchysis:

To this point, Lesbia, my mind is reduced by your guilt.

Another example comes from Horace (Odes I.35, lines 5ff.), part of a hymn to a goddess:

te pauper ambit sollicitā prece
ruris colonus, te dominam aequoris
quicumque Tyrrhenā lacessit
Carpathium pelagus carinā.

The meaning is "thee, (the mistress) of the countryside, the poor farmer beseeches with anxious prayer, thee, the mistress of the ocean, whoever provokes the Carpathian sea in a Tyrrhenian boat (beseeches)", dominam being understood with ruris as well as aequoris. Often, through failure to spot the synchysis, ruris is taken with colonus, and the verse is incorrectly translated as "the poor farmer of the countryside".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gaynor, Frank (1954). A Dictionary of Linguistics. Philosophical Library. p. 209.
  2. ^ Enos, Theresa (2010). Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition : communication From Ancient Times to the Information Age. New York: Routledge. p. 271. ISBN 0415875242.
  3. ^ "Synchysis". Changing Minds. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  4. ^ Silva Rhetoricae,
  5. ^ Pharr, Grammatical Appendix
  6. ^ Alford, L.D. "Rising Action – Figures of Speech, Synchysis". Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Synchyses". Changing Minds. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  8. ^ Zimmerman, Brett (2005). Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 129. ISBN 0773528997.
  9. ^ "Catul. 75". Perseus Digital Library Project. Retrieved 5 November 2014.