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What Is an Isocolon?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Isocolon is a type of communication that includes separate parts that complement each other with similar lengths, styles, or meanings. Words or phrases in isocolon may have the same numbers of syllables, be based on the same root words, or otherwise provide what’s called parallelism. Parallelism and other rhetorical methods give a longer phrase or sentence more of a defined and comprehensive pattern. This can help to enhance the ways that a speaker or writer delivers a message to an audience.

One of the best classic examples of isocolon is the Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar: veni, vidi, vici, or in English, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Although the English version of the phrase contains elements of parallelism, the Latin form provides a concrete example of this technique on various levels. The three words are not only similar parts of speech, but contain the same numbers of letters and the same numbers of syllables. This example is just one demonstration of how isocolon helps to showcase what is being said in a particular way.

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The use of isocolon and similar kinds of parallelism goes back to the earliest recorded written documents of human civilizations. For example, historians have presented significant elements of parallelism in the Hebrew Scriptures as some of the earliest recorded uses of this rhetorical style to appeal to an audience. One way that isocolon works toward enhanced rhetoric or speech and written presentations is that an audience tends to follow the parallel phrases more easily than dissimilar ones. This kind of parallelism also sets up more distinct or stark contrasts between two or more phrases, or, in other cases, provides a more tightly knit and understandable narrative.

The kinds of repetition in isocolon and similar forms of parallelism are often used in persuasive speech. Throughout various ages, listeners in courtrooms have heard lawyers and others involved in criminal justice use this technique to lead an audience. Famous politicians have also made extensive use of this technique from the time of Julius Caesar, or in fact the ancient Hebrews, through the modern era and the rise of modern societies like England and America. The technique is generally useful in laying out complementary or contrasting ideas in ways that appeal to the ear, and knowledgable speakers and writers have included them in many instances of communications delivered for a particular political, social, or religious effect.

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