It sounds much harsher than it is. Pathetic fallacy is a story-telling technique in which the environment surrounding a character is an extension of what is happening inside their head. My first introduction to pathetic fallacy was in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff is raging somewhere on the moors while thunder and lightning crash and flash. At least that’s how it’s stuck in my head all these years later. It is also when human emotions are attributed to an inanimate object, like a “sad” cloud or a “grumpy” sidewalk.

I wonder if Allen Ginsberg’s “angry fix” in Howl is pathetic fallacy or another literary device. If you say “I ate six bowls” when you mean “I ate six bowls of soup” then you’ve just used synecdoche.

My favorite literary device is semantic syllepsis. (Sometimes called ‘Zeugma’). In semantic syllepsis, a part of speech is used once to represent both the literal and the figurative sense of the word in the same sentence. Huh? Okay, an example. “I ate the meal and the cost.” I “ate the meal” is literal. I “ate the cost” is figurative. And you only say “ate” once – so that’s syllepsis/zeugma.

Language can be fun. What are some of your favorite literary devices? I would love to learn some in foreign languages, too. Like when you say “seven stone lions” in Mandarin – it’s a real tongue twister.

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