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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Learning Rhetorical Devices Through Taylor Swift Lyrics

My mom recently pointed out to me that Taylor Swift is an excellent lyricist. I had never given it much thought, but after I spent an entire workday listening to her songs, I have to agree!


I was impressed at the variety of rhetorical devices that Taylor uses. So, for this week, I'd like to go over something a bit dry—rhetoric—and liven it up with music.


Below are the definitions of 15 common rhetorical devices, links to their Wikipedia page, and an example from a Taylor Swift song. You can see how these devices make prose and poetry punchier.


 

The "juxtaposed repetition of words with similar roots or speech sounds within a phrase or sentence."


Example: That you never loved me, or her / Or anyone, or anything (I Knew You Were Trouble)





The "repetition of syllable-initial consonant sounds between nearby words."


Example: I polish plates until they gleam and glisten (tolerate it)





A "figure of speech, in which an object or circumstance from an unrelated context is referred to covertly or indirectly."


Example: 'Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter (Love Story)




Repeating "a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses, thereby lending them emphasis."


Example: Is it cool that I said all that / Is it chill that you're in my head (Delicate)





A "figure of speech in which the normal word order of the subject, the verb, and the object is changed."


Example: Bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to L.A. (Invisible String—with a bonus allusion to Taylor's own work!)




Often "sentences [that are] interrupted midway, where there is a change in the syntactical structure of the sentence."


Example: Look what you just made me--Ooh, look what you made me do (Look What You Made Me Do)





A "resemblance in the sounds of words/syllables...between their vowels."


Example: Ooh, look what you made me do (Look What You Made Me Do)




The "repetition of the same word or words at the end of successive phrases, clauses or sentences."

Example: It feels like a perfect night / For breakfast at midnight (22)





The "repetition of a word or phrase in immediate succession, typically within the same sentence, for vehemence or emphasis."


Example: We are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together (We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together)




The "use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech."


Example: You search in every model's bed for something greater (Is It Over Now?)





A "figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another."


Example: Karma is my boyfriend / karma is a god / karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend (Karma)





A "rhetorical device that compounds words or phrases that have equivalent meanings so as to create a definite pattern."


Example: You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath (All Too Well, 10 minute version)





The "deliberate insertion of conjunctions into a sentence" to slow the rhythm of the prose.


Example: 'Til we were dead and gone and buried (All Too Well, 10 minute version)





The "simple repeating of a word, within a short space of words (including in a poem), with no particular placement of the words to secure emphasis."

Example: I forget their names now / I'm so very tame now / Never be the same now, now (...Ready for It?)





A "figure of speech that directly compares two things" using "comparison words such as 'like', 'as', 'so', or 'than'."


Example: When I felt like I was an old cardigan / under someone's bed / you put me on and said I was your favorite (cardigan)




 

So next time you need inspiration, put on Taylor Swift!


Bye Bye Baby!

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