Friday, June 29, 2007

What's that device

Time for another installment of What's That Device, the Back With Interest series that explores the use of rhetorical devices in the culture around us.

Today's rhetorical device is chiasmus, which Merriam-Webster defines as "an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases." A famous instance is from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

Chiasmus gets its name from the Greek letter X, or chi, because examples of it make an X when they're diagrammed in a particular way. Thus the Kennedy:

Today's example of chiasmus comes from Paris Hilton's post-jail interview with CNN's Larry King the night before last. (In the first -- and till today only -- chapter of What's That Device, I said the series would focus solely on pop lyrics, but never mind.)

Hilton said, famously: "Don't serve the time; let the time serve you."

Or, diagrammed:

I hoped she might also take the opportunity to throw down some amphidiorthosis, but no luck.

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