Figure Name chiasmus
Source Silva Rhetoricae (; Fahnestock (1999); Vickers (1989) ("chiasmus")
Earliest Source
Etymology Gk. "a diagonal arrangement;" "comes from the Greek letter chi, because the visual figure of this letter captures the transposition or crossing that occurs in the verbal figures" (Fahnestock 126)
Type Scheme
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. Repetition of grammatical structures in inverted order (not to be mistaken with antimetabole, in which identical words are repeated and inverted). (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. A variant of the antimetabole, to which the name "chiasmus" is sometimes applied, abandons the constraints of repeating the same words in the second colon yet retains the pattern of inversion (Corbett 1971, 487; see also Brogan 1994, 36-27). Instead of repetition, this variant uses words related in some recognizable way--perhaps as synonyms or opposites or members of the same category--and these related words change positions. (Fahnestock 123)

3. Chiasmus, repeating ideas (not necessarily in the same words, contrast antimetabole) in inverted order. (Vickers 493)


1. But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strong loves.
—Shakespeare, Othello 3.3

The idea of affection occurs in "dotes" and "strongly loves"; the idea of doubting in "doubts" and "suspects". These two ideas occur in the quotation in an A B B A order, thus repeated and inverted. (Silva Rhetoricae)

1. It is boring to eat; to sleep is fulfilling.

The pattern is present participle-infinitive; infinitive-present participle. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Napoleon was defeated by a Russian winter and the snows of Liningrad destroyed Hitler. (Fahnestock 123)

3. But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves.
--Shakespeare, Othello, 3.3.169 (Vickers 493)

Kind Of Symmetry
Part Of antimetabole
Related Figures figures of repetition, figures of order, antimetabole
Notes Fahnestock discusses the distinct use of this term by the Greeks and rhetoric scholars and Biblical scholars. For rhetoric scholars, antimetabole and chiasmus have identical structure; the distinction between the two figures comes down to the word choice ("recurring terms can be replaced by cognates" in chiasmus). Fahnestock expresses the figures as A:B:B:A for antimetabole and A:B:B':A' for chiasmus, with the prime denoting the possibility for cognate terms. However, Biblical scholars view the chiasmus as describing a "center point" from where meaning is derived. That is, the centre of the chi, the "x," is where a chiasmus' meaning is created, not only in its parallel struture. In Fahnestock's notation this would be described as A:B:C:D:A, with "C" as the "pivotal center," which is the characteristic that marks the chiasmus as distinct from antimetabole. (Fahnestock 126).
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Daniel Etigson
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
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