Copywriters have been using figures of speech in their work forever. And by figures of speech, I don’t mean idioms or euphemisms, I mean figures from classical rhetoric. These are well-defined shapes and patterns in language. For classical rhetoricians, such patterns start at the highest level of organization and reach all the way down to sentences, clauses, phrases and words.
Let’s look at one.
Parallelism is the repetition of patterns of words, phrases and clauses. It adds rhythm, clarity and coherence. Chiasmus is the anti-parallelism. It reverses the order of words and phrases. Rhythm is preserved, but intriguing new meanings and connotations erupt. This discussion by the guy who wrote the book on it is tops.
The classic example of chiasmus comes from Mae West:
It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life of your men.
There are others you may recognize:
Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
I am stuck on Band-Aid, and Band-Aid’s stuck on me.
Sorry, Charlie. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.
How about a couple for Lars Peterson Editorial Services?
Dr. Mardy Grothe, linked above, used this line from the Bible, “Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed,” as an example of chiasmus that reverses more than one or two terms (there’s no limit, by the way). Let’s use it as a model.
A Copywriter who pens words that sell must first sell himself with words he pens.
That sounds heavy and old timey. And the rhythm is not quite right in the second clause (“himself” messes it up). Worse, it’s not specific to me.
Let’s start with another truism, in tighter, brighter language, and reverse it somehow in the second clause.
All copywriters think they write like Hemingway. He wouldn’t have thought to write like me.
Better! Self-deprecating humor can work (“With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”), but I don’t want to give clients an easy way to pass on me. And it’s not tight and bright enough.
Let’s keep it under ten words, for both clauses or phrases, and make it specific to what I do (writing and editing).
Finding perfect words and perfecting words found.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Still a little stuffy, and not easy to say aloud, but definitely one for the keeper file.