Breaking Down Isocolon
Isocolon (derives from Greek word ἴσος (ísos), literally means “equal” and κῶλον (kôlon), meaning “member,” or “clause”), is a literary device and a kind of parallelismOpens in new window by which successive sentencesOpens in new window, clausesOpens in new window, or phrasesOpens in new window are structured similarly in length, rhythmOpens in new window and are grammatically parallel.
In some cases of isocolon, the structural balance may be so complete that the number of syllablesOpens in new window in each phraseOpens in new window is the same; in the more common case the parallel clauses merely use the same parts of speechOpens in new window in the same order. The device can produce pleasing rhythms, and the parallel structures it creates may helpfully reinforce a parallel substance in the speakers’s claims, as we would observe in the course of this discussion.
The Ancient GreeksOpens in new window were rather obsessed with isocolon for obvious reason being its sense of balance in writing, which reflected the sense of balance that they admired in thought. Isocolon is still used in the modern world. Common examples known in the modern age includes:
- “Roses are red. Violets are blue;”
- “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done;”
- “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee;”
- “I came, I saw, I conquer.”
Isocolon is not limited to two parallels, there is much more extended case as notable in John F. Kennedy’sOpens in new window inuaugural address in 1961:
- “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” And likewise in Winston Churchill’sOpens in new window address:
- “Fill the armies, rule the air, pour out the munitions, strangle the U-boats, sweep the mines, plough the land, build the ships, guard the streets, succor the wounded, uplift the downcast, and honour the brave.”
Types of Isocolon
There are three (3) types of isocolon, namely: the Bicolon, the TricolonOpens in new window, and the Tetracolon.
1. The Bicolon refers to a pair of adjacent lines of poetry in which the second line echoes the meaning of the first.
A common example of a bicolon phrase is the advertising slogan “buy one, get one free”. There are a couple of examples of Bicolon phrases in the Biblical poetry, particularly in Psalm 114, as outlined below:
2. The Tricolon refers to a sentence with three parallel defined parts of equal length, usually in a series of independent clauses, as:
- Veni, vidi, vici. (Although, the English translated version [“I came; I saw; I conquered.”] is not a true tricolon, for its verbs are not all the same length, as is the case in the Latin)
— Julius Caesar
See more of TricolonOpens in new window.
3. Tetracolon (Plural Tetracolons or Tetracola) or sometimes called Quatrains, is a stanza or division in lyric poetry, consisting of four successive verses or lines.
Isocolon often affords the interlocutor the capability to express multiple thoughts about the same subject:
Isocolon, like all rhetorical devices, tends to mark an utterance as stylish and oratorical, it must be used with sensitivity to the occasion. An excessive use of the device will only prove awkward and incur us a Shakespearean slap on the wrist, as thus:
It’s much better to use it judiciously as proven relevant to any given occasion.