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Asyndeton is a rhetorical term for a writing style that omits conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. Adjective: asyndetic. The opposite of asyndeton is polysyndeton.
According to Edward Corbett and Robert Connors, "The principal effect of asyndeton is to produce a hurried rhythm in the sentence" (Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 1999).
In his study of Shakespeare's style, Russ McDonald argues that the figure of asyndeton works "by means of juxtaposition rather than coupling, thereby depriving the auditor of clear logical relations" (Shakespeare's Late Style, 2010).
Examples and Observations
- "He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac."
(Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957)
- "Joona walks through the Christmas market in Bollnäs Square. Fires are burning, horses are snorting, chestnuts are roasting. Children race through a stone maze, others drink hot chocolate."
(Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist. Trans. by Ann Long. Picador, 2011)
- "Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom!"
(Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1953)
- "She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice,
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps."
(Flanders and Swann, "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear")
- "Why, they've got ten volumes on suicide alone. Suicide by race, by color, by occupation, by sex, by seasons of the year, by time of day. Suicide, how committed: by poisons, by firearms, by drowning, by leaps. Suicide by poison, subdivided by types of poison, such as corrosive, irritant, systemic, gaseous, narcotic, alkaloid, protein, and so forth. Suicide by leaps, subdivided by leaps from high places, under the wheels of trains, under the wheels of trucks, under the feet of horses, from steamboats. But Mr. Norton, of all the cases on record, there's not one single case of suicide by leap from the rear end of a moving train."
(Edward G. Robinson as insurance agent Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity, 1944)
- "It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.
"Cold; tempest; wild beasts in the forest. It is a hard life. Their houses are built of logs, dark and smoky within. There will be a crude icon of the virgin behind a guttering candle, the leg of a pig hung up to cure, a string of drying mushrooms. A bed, a stool, a table. Harsh, brief, poor lives."
(Angela Carter, "The Werewolf." The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, 1979)
- "I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods"
(Anne Sexton, "Her Kind")
- "In some ways, he was this town at its best--strong, hard-driving, working feverishly, pushing, building, driven by ambitions so big they seemed Texas-boastful."
(Mike Royko, "A Tribute")
- "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 creole, 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 in Forrest Gump, 1994)
- "Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds."
(Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-1853)
Functions of Asyndeton
"When asyndeton is used in a series of words, phrases, or clauses, it suggests the series is somehow incomplete, that there is more the writer could have included (Rice 217). To put it somewhat differently: in a conventional series, writers place an 'and' before the final item. That 'and' signals the end of the series: 'Here it is folks--the last item.' Omit that conjunction and you create the impression that the series could continue…
"Asyndeton can also create ironic juxtapositions that invite readers into collaborative relationships with writers: because there are no explicit connections between phrases and clauses, readers must supply them to reconstruct the writer's intent…
"Asyndeton can also quicken the pace of prose, especially when it is used between clauses and sentences."
(Chris Holcomb and M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Performing Prose: The Study and Practice of Style in Composition. SIU Press, 2010)
From the Greek, "unconnected"