An Introduction to Diaphora

Diaphora (derives from Gk. meaning “distinction or variance” ), is a literary scheme which consists in the repetition of a common nounOpens in new window in contrast to a proper nounOpens in new window a second time in order to perform two logical functions: to designate an individual and that individual’s associatied qualities.

For sake of clarity, it is worthy to present Peacham’ views by virtue of this beautiful illustration of his:

  • “What man is there living, that would not have pitied that case if he had been a man.”

Here, PeachamOpens in new window illustrates that in the repetition, man is used to signify “humanity” or “compassion” as associated to man’s nature. (The Garden of Eloquence.)

Notable Examples of Diaphora
  • “For your gods are not gods but man-made idols.”
  • — (The Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus)
  • The president is not the president when he compromises his morals and our trust so basely.
    Shakespeare also used man to effect this figure when Alcibiades asks Timon:
  • “Is man so hateful to thee That art thyself a man?”
  • — (Timon of Athens 4.3.51)
    Diaphora may play on homonyms without necessarily becoming word-play for instance as in Shakespeare's Richard II:
  • Base court, where kings grow base”/
    “That lie shall lie so heavy on my sword”
  • — (Shakespeare, Richard II, 3.3., 4.1)
    Another example that uses homonym:
  • ‘He said, “I suppose we are cousins more or less,”
    but in his mind I suppose that in my case the word must for him rather have meant mosquito or gnat, and again I blushed angrily’ (note that French homonym ‘cousin’ means both ‘cousin’ and ‘gnat’)
  • (Simon, La Route des Flandres, p. 8).
    Diaphora may also take a twist from a change in meaning to a change in reality:
  • ‘The king is dead. Long live the king (the repetition of the king; points to a new king).
Further Readings:
Henry Peachum., The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Schemas | Diaphora Opens in new window
Theresa Enos, Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times