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Epiphonema Overview

Epiphonema, a commonplace of discourse, functions within a text or media by concluding a work with a “witty saying; phrase added by way of ornament or as a finishing touch” (Lanham 69). This device intends to impart with the reader a lingering creative ending epitomizing the important themes from a work. Usages of epiphonemas enlighten the reader as to the most critical aspects or themes, “which gathers into a pithy sentence what has preceded. A striking, summarizing reflection” (Silva Rhetoricae). Allowing the author to enhance a text through individual creativity, epiphonemas cleverly reiterate the work’s overall plot or message acting as the ultimate and final words of a composition.

An illustrative example of an epiphonema appears within The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which tells the story of Nick Carraway’s befriending of Jay Gatsby. The movie portrays a death of the American Dream. After understanding the fabrications and deceptions in the lifestyles around him, Nick ends the novel with the epiphonema, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Nick’s final contemplation illustrates the perceived inability to rise above and conquer the past or other obstacles individuals face daily in their lives as mirrored by the plot.

Burton, O. Gideon. “Epiphonema.” Brigham Young University Silva Rhetoricae, n.d. Web. 30 November 2011.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. United States: Scribner, 1925. Print.

Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of London Press, 1991. Print.

Categories: epiphonema, overview
  1. rmnovick
    December 8, 2011 at 4:31 am

    “The Daily Show” with Jon Steward displays epiphonema. At the end of each episode, he offers the audience a moment of Zen and a short clip runs of something ridiculous or ironic. The moment of Zen could consist of anything from a politician flubbing a speech to silly parade of very small cars. The short segments really have nothing to do with Zen in a traditional sense, but the audience is left with one last image to contemplate in a comically enlightened manner.

  2. rmnovick
    December 9, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    One more example of this device at work:

    The “I’m going to Disney World” commercial campaign uses celebrities who have achieved a level of greatness to promote Disney World. In this example, Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, is asked “So now that you’ve won the Superbowl, what next?” He replies, “I’m going to Disney World!” The statement sums up the idea that going to the theme park is the most apt celebration after achieving a significant goal. The idea of Brees hanging out with Mickey and Minnie after winning a game as popular as the Superbowl is charming and clever, but I seriously doubt he went to Disney World.

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