Zeugma

Zeugma

ˈzo͞oɡmə

Noun

  • A figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., “John and his license expired last week”) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g., “with weeping eyes and hearts”).

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Example Sentences

“My teacher took points off for the confusing zeugma in my introductory statement.”

“As a literary device, a zeugma challenges the reader to hold two possible definitions of a word at once.” 

“Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’ is an excellent example of zeugma, as the short story lists both physical and metaphorical items the soldiers carry with them.”

Word Origin

Greek, mid-15th century

Why this word?

The word “zeugma” comes from the Greek “zeugnunai,” meaning “to yoke,” which makes sense as the literary device involves joining multiple meanings of the same word together in a clause. For example, in the Alanis Morisette song “Head Over Feet,” she sings, “You are the bearer of / Unconditional things / You held your breath and the door for me.” The zeugma comes into play in the last line, as someone is holding their breath momentarily, and physically holding open a door for her — two different usages of the verb “hold” are within the same clause.

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