This morning while listening to the news on CBSN, author Derek Thompson was being interviewed about his recently published book Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. During his explanation of how things become popular, he used the word antimetabole (an-tee-meh-TA-boe-lee). The word was was quickly questioned by the interviewer, and a whole new discussion ensued.

Thompson explained that John F. Kennedy often used antimetabole in his speeches and how impactful it was for his message. The effect would be no different if this is employed as a strategy to stress a point or make something popular.

We learn new words everyday, but somehow I couldn’t shrug this one out of my thoughts. So I’ve decided to share it for whatever it is worth.

According to

Antimetabole is a literary and rhetorical device in which a phrase or sentence is repeated, but in reverse order. Writers or speakers use antimetabole for effect-calling attention to the words, or demonstrating that reality is not always what it seems by using the reversal of words.

Here are a few examples of antimetabole used in literature and speech:

  1. “You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you.” Barack Obama
  2. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  3. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” –Billy Preston
  4. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” “Inaugural Address,” John F. Kennedy
  5. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” Malcolm X, “Malcolm X”
  6. “It is not even the beginning of the end but is perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill
  7. “We do what we like and we like what we do.” – Andrew W.K., “Party Hard”
  8. “I am stuck on band-aid, because band-aid’s stuck on me.” Band-aid commercial
  9. “Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.” Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  10. “Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Antimetabole and Chiasmus

Antimetabole and chiasmus are very closely related and some experts even use them interchangeably but both the terms still exist to refer to two distinct literary devices.

A chiasmus is a sentence repeated inversely and the only condition of a chiasmic sentence is that the two clauses in the phrase are opposite in meanings. For example, the popular saying by Havelock Ellis’s, “Charm is a woman’s strength, strength is a man’s charm,” The aforementioned sentence, although, is an example of chiasmus but is not an antimetabole because the two clauses have opposite meanings but the words and the grammatical makeup are dissimilar.

Now you can join the fun using the word and examples of it to make your speech impactful.

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