An Introduction to Distinctio

Distinctio (etymologically from Latin, literally “differentiation”), is a figure of definition which consists in eliminating ambiguous meaning of a word or phrase by explicitly specifying explanation of such word(s).

    For example:
  • “The device is excellent, particularly its user interface. By user interface, I mean its ease of accessibility, and friendly software.”

Sometimes, words—especially words that connote to abstract qualities—are semantically dynamic in any given context; this is where the figure, distinctio, comes into play, used as a means to achieve clarity. This clarification may be the difference between a point perspicuously stated, and an ambigious point that is likely to be interpreted by one’s audience to mean something else.

Notable Examples
  • “The Late Professor Chinua Achebe was an erudite scholar, I mean he was very intelligent and knowledgeable in his discipline
  • “I think at this point, for sake of keeping up with the competition, it is important we take a recess—by recess, I mean taking a short break, to refresh and come up stronger
Further Readings:
Course Notes | Rhetorical Devices: DistinctioOpens in new window
American Rhetoric | Rhetorical Figures in Sound: DistinctioOpens in new window