Asyndeton (uh-SIN-duh-ton) [scheme] – Removing conjunctions from a series to add emphasis.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
– Julius Caesar
To the delight of rhetoricians—and the dismay of grammarians—Caesar’s egocentric pronouncement made asyndeton (plural: asyndeta) famous and has become the quintessential example of this mostly poetic figure of speech. Way to go, Juli!
Asyndeton shuns the use of conjunctions in a series as burdensome and clumsy. And the longer the series the better!
“Anyway, like I was saying, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creoles, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That—that’s about it.”
– Bubba from “Forrest Gump”
This scheme changes the rhythm of your rhetoric, either slowing it way down to create solemn drama (like Caesar) or speeding it up to create a sense of urgency:
“An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was thick, warm, heavy, sluggish.”
– From “Heart of Darkness”
Use asyndeton sparingly. As with most figures, it can radically change the effectiveness of your discourse. (So know the rhetorical situation.) Imagine if Caesar had decided to use a conjunction:
“I came, saw, and conquered.”
Or worse, a few conjunctions:
“I came, and I saw, and I conquered.”
The horror, the horror.
[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]