In my previous post about the word “it,” I mentioned the first line of A Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … “. I just learned that there is a name for this type of repetition – anaphora, (pronounced uh-naf-er-uh). When a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive sentences, verses or clauses – the result is an anaphora.
In oral communications class, we discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, and the repetition of that same phrase within the speech. When used correctly, repeating a phrase can emphasize an important idea and help people remember what was said. I would argue that Dickens and King used anaphora correctly.
When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying.
Like many other style and grammar rules, there aren’t hard and fast rules for exceptions. Great writers break rules, and the writing works. Not-so-great-writers also break rules, and the writing may not work. Sometimes we just know it when we read it.
(For those of you who are following along, I just realized that I added the word “just” to the headline today, and I also used it in this sentence. See, I wasn’t just (uh oh, there it goes again!) kidding about using the word “just.”)