What is Zeugma? Definition, Examples of Zeugma in Literature

Zeugma definition: Zeugma is defined as the joining of two parts of a sentence together through the use of a word or phrase.

What is Zeugma in Literature?

Zeugma is the joining of two parts of a sentence together through the use of a word or phrase. Typically, the word or phrase joining these is an adjective or verb.

Zeugma Example

In the example that follow, the verb “brushed” joins two distinct phrases “her hair” and “the dust.”

  • Christina brushed her hair and the dust off her jacket.

Modern Examples of Zeugma

Many popular examples of zeugma come from famous quotations because by using such stylistic language they allow for the speaker to have a profound impact on his audience:

  • “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” -Theodore Roosevelt
  • “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” –Ayn Rand
  • “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” –Mahatma Gandhi

The Function of Zeugma in Literature

A zeugma is an important device used in literature. By including these in writing, the author creates a stylistic effect that makes a piece of writing more interesting for the reader. By combining words and phrases together with a common word, it brings union to otherwise unrelated terms which can have a shocking and thoughtful effect for the audience.

Examples of Zeugma in Literature

In Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried”, he utilizes zeugma. He writers, “he carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men”. In this example, the word “carried” refers to both the light and responsibility. While these two terms are far apart in the spectrum of importance, it shows the degree of which he had things to “carry”.

Another example of this device is found in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. Dickens writes, “he was alternately cudgeling his brains and his donkey when, passing the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate”. In this zeugma, the verb cudgeling refers to both “his brains” and “his donkey”.

Summary: What Are Zeugmas?

Define zeugma in literature: In summation, the term zeugma is defined as a figure of speech that involves using a single word in order to join together more than one word or phrase.

Final Example:

The famous early-American writer Henry David Thoreau utilized zeugma in his philosophical text Walden. In this piece of literature, he describes his idea of a perfect living situation according the existentialists beliefs he possessed.

  • “I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house…where you can see no necessary a thing, as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner, and the oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornaments; where the washing is not put out, nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trap-door, when the cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath you without stamping.”