The lamb and the cat and the dog

The lamb and the cat and the dog

In Brief

Figure of speech. Bloom recalls details of the Chad Gadya song with a string of nouns and conjunctions: "And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher." Rhetoricians call this kind of grammatical structure polysyndeton: use of many conjunctions.

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Polysyndeton (POL-ee-SIN-duh-ton, from Greek poly- = many + syndeton = bound together) is the opposite of asyndeton. Instead of eliminating the expected conjunctions from a list or a series of clauses, it adds extra ones. So, rather than using "and," "or," or "nor" only between the penultimate and final items in such a series, or putting "either" or "neither" only at the beginning, polysyndeton sprinkles conjunctions throughout. As Gideon Burton ( notes, this often leads to "slowing the tempo or rhythm." John Smith observes that it lends "weightinesse" to words in a list.

Henry Peacham cites multiples of "and" like this one: "He was both an enemie to his countrey, and a traitor to his Prince, and a contemner of lawes, and a subverter of cities." In Paul's letter to the Romans Peacham finds the word "neither" reiterated: "For I am sure that neither death, neither life, neither things to come, neither height, neither depth, neither any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (8:38-39). (In the King James translation of these verses, the word "nor" replaces all but the first use of "neither." The effect is the same.) The motto associated with the U.S. Postal Service repeats the word "nor": "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Literary examples abound, few of them more striking than these sentences from Ernest Hemingway's "After the Storm" cited by Burton: "I said, 'Who killed him?' and he said, 'I don't know who killed him but he's dead all right,' and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water."

Bloom's polysyndeton represents his imperfect attempt to recall the elements of a cumulative song: "the angel of death that slew the slaughterer that killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid that father bought for two zuzim." In Finnegans Wake Joyce deploys a similar figure in which the nouns are left recognizable but the conjunctions ceaselessly mutate, never quite saying "and": "They lived und laughed ant loved end left" (18).

JH 2023