Welcome to the new Prestige Prose blog! Now, in addition to a writing prompt each week, we will discuss various forms of literary devices and provide examples. This blog has been a work in progress as we continue to improve our website and add more information useful to authors. If there is a particular literary device or writing style convention that you would like to know about in more detail, let us know in the comments or contact us at email@example.com.
Have you heard of adynaton? If you’re like me, you may not recognize this term, but you will surely recognize its usage. It is a figure of speech related to hyperbole that emphasizes impossibility or inexpressibility. Who hasn’t used exaggeration for effect, if not in writing then in conversation? The difference between adynaton and exaggeration is that adynaton takes exaggeration to a whole new level: what is proposed simply isn’t possible.
Adynaton often uses a comparison that is contradictory. Common examples of adynaton exist in the English language, and you may even have used some of these yourself. Examples such as “It’s raining cats and dogs” and “She will kill me when she finds out” are popular expressions using adynaton.
Adynaton was widely used in classical literature by ancient Greek playwrights and Roman poets. However, its usage had fallen out of favor by the Middle Ages before experiencing a resurgence among romantic poets. Examples can be found in satirical pieces of literature such as Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, in which the gigantic size of the people represent the worst characteristics of humanity. Another example is found in Macbeth as the king recognizes his guilt in Duncan’s murder: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand?” One of the most widely known uses of adynaton is found in the words of Jesus in the bible: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).
What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) examples of adynaton? Do you use this literary device in your writing or in your speech? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!