Zeugma is a figure in which a verb (or an adjective) is applied to two nouns, though it is strictly appropriate to only one of them but not to the other so that another suitable verb (or adjective) should be mentally supplied to the latter for the proper understanding of its meaning. It is not used to produce any comic effect.
One verb is connected with two nouns to each of which a separate verb ought to have been supplied.
Sometimes, for the sake of brevity and emphasis, one verb is used for Two nouns, each of which requires a separate verb. This figurative brevity is called Zeugma. The word ‘zeugma’ is derived from Greek ‘zeugnumi’. meaning yoke’ or ‘yoking’:
This figure, according to Kennedy, consists in the connection of one word with two words or clauses, to both of which it does not equally apply, so that for one of them, another word, to be gathered from the sense of the passage must be mentally supplied’.
It may be regarded as a special form of Syllepsis.
The chief characteristics of this figure of speech are given below:
(i) One verb is applied on two nouns.
(ii) It is applicable to only one of them.
(iii) Another suitable verb should be mentally supplied for the other noun.
In this figure one verb is connected with two nouns to each of which it is not strictly appropriate; it is suitable only to ono so that for the other another fitting verb is necessary, and it is mentally supplied to grasp its proper meaning. What is important to note about this figure is that the single verb gives sense only to one of the nouns and that for the other noun an additional suitable verb is necessary. Thus in the following example “Kill the boys and the luggage’ we notice that a single verb (Kill”) is required to do duty for two nouns (boys’ and ‘luggage’) whereas it is strictly appropriate to only one (boys) so that for the other (‘luggage’) another suitable verb (destroy or plunder) should be mentally supplied to grasp its proper meaning. We also note that here the single verb fails to give sense to both the nouns, and that the sentence is used not for the sake of raising any laughter.
Zeugma Examples with Illustrations
(a) The feast and noon grew high. (Milton)
This is a zeugma. In this figure one verb is connected with two nouns to one of which only it is strictly appropriate and for the other another suitable verb is necessary.
Here the verb ‘grew is connected with ‘feast’ and ‘noon’. But this verb is appropriate only to ‘noon’, and for the other noun “feast another verb (was celebrated’) must be mentally supplied.
(b) Banners on high, and battles passed below. (Byron)
This is a zeugma. In this figure a verb is connected with two nouns to only one of which it is strictly appropriate.
Here the verb ‘passed’ is appropriate only in the case of one noun “battles’, and for the other noun ‘Banners’ another suitable verb (e.g. waved) is to be supplied to grasp its proper meaning.
(c) The moment and the vessel passed. (Tennyson)
This is a zeugma.
In a zeugma, one verb is connected with two nouns to each of which a separate verb should properly be supplied.
Two nouns, ‘moment’ and ‘vessel’ are here connected with one verb passed’, though each of them requires a separate verb.
Zeugma Examples in Literature
- We left the place with weeping eyes and [bleeding] hearts.
- Would hide her wrongs and (ward off) her revenge. (Scott)
- The moment (fitted) and the vessel passed. (Tennyson)
- See Pan (surrounded) with flocks, with fruits Pomona Crown’d. (Pope)
- The sun shall not burn thee by day,
Neither the moon (freeze) by night.
- To lay my head and [keep) hallowed pledge.
- His looks drew attention and [compelled] audience.
- He gave to the beggar six pence and heaved a sigh.
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