Re: asyndeton

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sat Jan 09 1999 - 20:02:19 EST

At 05:30 PM 1/9/99 -0500, Ross Durham wrote:
>In her article on 1 Cor 11.2-16, Gundry-Volf comments on verses 3 and 4
>that there is obviously a very close relationship between the two verses
>because verse 4 is asyndetic. However she does not provide any footnotes
>for that assertion. From a grammatical and/or discourse analysis
>perspective, what does asyndeton indicate as far as the relationship between
>two verses? What resources or references are there for this besides

I looked up "asyndeton" in this site, a favorite place for looking up
figures of speech and rhetorical forms:

Unfortunately, now that I know what "asyndeton" means, I can't figure out
what the statements you quoted mean - they don't seem to make sense. What
part of this is supposed to be an example of asyndeton? Is there supposed
to be asyndeton within verse 4, or is verse 4 asyndetic with respect to
something else, and why?



Here's what
says about asyndeton:

2. Asyndeton consists of omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or
clauses. In a list of items, asyndeton gives the effect
of unpremeditated multiplicity, of an extemporaneous rather than a labored

     On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame.

The lack of the "and" conjunction gives the impression that the list is
perhaps not complete. Compare:

     She likes pickles, olives, raisins, dates, pretzels.
     She likes pickles, olives, raisins, dates, and pretzels.

Sometimes an asyndetic list is useful for the strong and direct climactic
effect it has, much more emphatic than if a final
conjunction were used. Compare:

     They spent the day wondering, searching, thinking, understanding.
     They spent the day wondering, searching, thinking, and understanding.

In certain cases, the omission of a conjunction between short phrases gives
the impression of synonymity to the phrases, or makes
the latter phrase appear to be an afterthought or even a substitute for the
former. Compare:

     He was a winner, a hero.
     He was a winner and a hero.

Notice also the degree of spontaneity granted in some cases by asyndetic
usage. "The moist, rich, fertile soil," appears more
natural and spontaneous than "the moist, rich, and fertile soil - "

Generally, asyndeton offers the feeling of speed and concision to lists and
phrases and clauses, but occasionally the effect cannot
be so easily categorized. Consider the "flavor" of these examples:

     If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed,
     are frightened, at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies
     that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are
     ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear. --John Henry Newman

     In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I fore
     see things to come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from
     books come forth the laws of peace. --Richard de Bury

     We certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom
     our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our
     happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our
     pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away.
     --John Henry Newman

3. Polysyndeton is the use of a conjunction between each word,
phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of
asyndeton. The rhetorical effect of polysyndeton, however,
often shares with that of asyndeton a feeling of multiplicity,
energetic enumeration, and building up.

     They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed
     and played and talked and flunked.

Use polysyndeton to show an attempt to encompass something complex:

     The water, like a witch's oils,
     Burnt green, and blue, and white.
     --S. T. Coleridge

     [He] pursues his way,
     And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.
     --John Milton

The multiple conjunctions of the polysyndetic structure
call attention to themselves and therefore add the effect
of persistence or intensity or emphasis to the other effect
of multiplicity. The repeated use of "nor" or "or" emphasizes
alternatives; repeated use of "but" or "yet" stresses qualifications.
Consider the effectiveness of these:

     And to set forth the right standard, and to train according to it,
     and to help forward all students towards it according to their
     various capacities, this I conceive to be the business of a
     --John Henry Newman
     We have not power, nor influence, nor money, nor authority;
     but a willingness to persevere, and the hope that we shall
     conquer soon.

In a skilled hand, a shift from polysyndeton to asyndeton can be very

     Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste,
     and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the
     inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people,
     so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master;
     as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer,
     so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower;
     as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.
     --Isaiah 24:1-2 (KJV)
Texcel Research

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