It wasn't me, sir

It wasn't me, sir

In Brief

Figure of speech. The newsboy who invades the office protests that he was not responsible: "— It wasn't me, sir. It was the big fellow shoved me, sir." This unremarkable-sounding utterance embodies the rhetorical principle of symploce: repeating one word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses, and another at the end.

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Symploce (SIM-plo-kee or SIM-plo-see, from Greek sym- = together + plekein = to weave, so an "interweaving") combines anaphora and epistrophe. Gideon Burton ( cites its use by the Athenian orator Aeschines: "Against yourself you are calling him, against the laws you are calling him, against the democratic constitution you are calling him." Among literary texts, Richard Nordquist ( quotes from T. S. Eliot's Prufrock ("The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes...") and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure:
Most strange, but yet most truly, will I speak:
That Angelo's forsworn, is it not strange?
That Angelo's a murderer, is't not strange?
That Angelo is an adulterous thief,
An hypocrite, a virgin-violator,
Is it not strange? and strange? (5.1.37-42)

In contrast to such stirring eloquence, the newsboy's repetition of "It was" and "me, sir" is so ordinary as to escape notice. Gilbert, the first to detect the artificial construction, nevertheless seems to misname it. He calls it epanaphora, defining that device as the "combined use of Anaphora and Epiphora." The word epanaphora is sometimes used as a synonym for anaphora, but never (as far as I can tell) for symploce.

JH 2023
Quotation from a 23 April 1995 speech by Bill Clinton.