Zeugma

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This article is part of the Figures of Speech course. You may choose to follow it in a structured way, or read each item separately.

Zeugma (a Greek word meaning 'yoking' (or 'linking') together) is using one word in two different ways in the same sentence. It is exemplified by the householder going to bed hurrying: "to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps" (Flanders and Swan). Here, the phrasal verb 'put out' is used only once, but is used with four different Objects, in a different sense with each one. (When we put out the cat, we throw it out of the door; when we put out the wine, we empty the dirty glass; when we put out a cigar, we extinguish its burning; and when we put out the lamps, we turn them off.)

Two much-quoted examples of zeugma follow. "Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears and a Sedan chair" (Dickens, Pickwick Papers). (A Sedan chair is an old-fashioned vehicle.) Here the words went out in are first applied to Miss Bolo's emotional state (she was crying), and second to her means of transport (she was being carried in a Sedan chair): the same words have different applications.

The poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) said, in The Rape of the Lock, that Queen Anne did "sometimes council take, and sometimes tea" at Hampton Court Palace. To take counsel is to listen to advice; to take tea is to drink it.

For a note on one example of pedantry, see syllepsis - zeugma. There is also a wonderful list of subdivisions of zeugma at Burton's Silva Rhetorica website, [[1]] and SEARCH for zeugma.