In rhetoric, a verbal pattern (a type of antithesis) in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed. Essentially the same as antimetabole. Adjective: chiastic. Plural: chiasmus or chiasmi.
- What Is Chiasmus? Employing the Power of the Crisscross Figure of Speech
- Balanced Sentence
- Chiasmus on the Campaign Trail
- Dirimens Copulatio
- Figure of Speech
- Paired Construction
- Quiz on the Top 20 Figures of Speech
- Top 20 Figures of Speech
- Word Play
- Words at Play: An Introduction to Recreational Linguistics
Etymology:From the Greek, "mark with the letter X."
Examples and Observations:
- "You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget."
(Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006)
- "In the end, the true test is not the speeches a president delivers; it’s whether the president delivers on the speeches."
(Hillary Clinton, March 2008)
- "I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction's job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."
(David Foster Wallace)
- "I flee who chases me, and chase who flees me."
- "Fair is foul, and foul is fair."
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth I.i)
- "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
- "If black men have no rights in the eyes of the white men, of course the whites can have none in the eyes of the
(Frederick Douglass, "An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage")
- "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."
(Alfred North Whitehead)
- "Do I love you because you're beautiful?
Or are you beautiful because I love you?"
(Oscar Hammerstein II, "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?")
- "The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults."
(Peter De Vries)
- "Don't sweat the petty things--and don't pet the sweaty things."
- "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."
(President Bill Clinton, August 2008)
- "You can take it out of the country, but you can't take the country out of it."
(slogan for Salem cigarettes)
- "Friendly Americans win American friends."
(United States Travel Service, 1963)
- "Never let a fool kiss you--or a kiss fool you."
(Joey Adams, quoted by Mardy Grothe in Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. Viking, 1999)
- "My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington."
- "I am stuck on Band-Aid, and Band-Aid's stuck on me."
(advertising jingle for Band-Aid bandages)
- "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
(President John Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961)
- "The right to bear arms is slightly less ridiculous than the right to arm bears."
(chiastic joke by English comedian Chris Addison)
- "[W]hat surprised me was not, as during the first days, that Albertine, so alive in me, could be no longer existent upon the earth, could be dead, but that Albertine, who no longer existed upon the earth, who was dead, should have remained so alive in me."
(Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: The Captive, The Fugitive, 1923/1925. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and edited by J.J. Enright and Terence Kilmartin. The Modern Library, 1992)
- "Someone once said that the difference between William James and Henry James was that the former was a psychologist who wrote like a novelist while the latter was a novelist who wrote like a psychologist."
(Archibald Henderson, "Aspects of Contemporary Fiction." The Arena, July 1906)
- Chiasmus As Verbal Judo
"The root pattern is called 'chiasmus' because, diagrammed, it forms an 'X,' and the Greek name for X is chi. When John Kennedy constructed his famous bromide, 'Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,' he went to the Well of Antithesis for his active ingredient. Where does the 'X' power come from? . . . Obviously a verbal judo is at work here. By keeping the phrase but inverting its meaning we use our opponent's own power to overcome him, just as a judo expert does. So a scholar remarked of another's theory, 'Cannon entertains that theory because that theory entertains Cannon.' The pun on 'entertain' complicates the chiasmus here, but the judo still prevails--Cannon is playing with the power of his own mind rather than figuring out the secrets of the universe."
(Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)
- A Classical Figure of Speech
Chiasmus, you see, is as old as recorded civilization. It shows up in ancient Sanskrit, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian texts. It appears in ancient Chinese writings, including the Analects of Confucius. It was an integral feature of ancient Hebrew poetry and is common in both the Old and New Testaments. To the Greeks, though, chiasmus held a special fascination, as Greek sages and orators strove to outdo one another's classic creations:
"It is not the earth that makes us believe the man,(Mardy Grothe, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. Viking, 1999)
but the man the oath."
—Aeschylus (fifth century B.C.)
"Love as if you would one day hate,
and hate as if you would one day love."
—Bias (sixth century B.C.)
"Bad men live that they may eat and drink,
whereas good men eat and drink that they may live."
—Socrates (fifth century B.C.)