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Wordsmithing (1) "Anitmetabole"

Updated: Apr 18, 2023


During a meeting last week, I heard the phrase "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." I'm not sure who originally said it, but it's a great quote. One of its virtues is that it's well-crafted; there's something neatly configured in the words that makes you want to replay them and compare the first and second clauses. It's like hearing a good joke that has some truth to it. You have a sense that if you could capture observations from your life in that structure, they'd be candidates for memorable aphorisms.

This phrase has the same structure as many great lines in rhetorical history, such as "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" by JFK, "This man I thought had been a lord among wits; but, I find he is only a wit among lords" by Boswell quoting Samuel Johnson, and "Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food," attributed to Hippocrates.

This structure is called an "Antimetabole," which is a scheme of construction - a set way of configuring words - that the Romans were talking about a couple of thousand years ago. They added it to the catalog of their sensational laws of rhetoric, which was once a central

, but now abandoned, discipline.

Why should you care? You should care because this particular scheme serves a triple duty when you're pitching, debating, discussing, or relating to others. It's memorable, it's fun, and it's concise. There are few better ways to convey an idea in the workplace than to take the time to configure it as an antimetabole. What better way is there to say what you mean and mean what you say?


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