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An Introduction to Epanorthosis

Epanorthosis (etymologically from Greek, literally means “self correction”), is a figure of thought by means of retracting or amending that earlier said, to substitute either for a better reinforcement or something more suitable in its place.

Epanorthosis enhances emphatic word replacement by altering a first thought to add stronger emphasis. For instance, “Thousands, no, millions!”

This device makes up a great deal of a composition. It is a relative of correctioOpens in new window, but differs in its content relationship with the statement prior. — (Gregory T. Howard, ‘Dictionary of Rhetorical TermsOpens in new window’)

A retraction is one of the possible forms of epanorthosis as below:

  1. ‘Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail’

    — (Dickesn, A Christmas Carol, stave 1).

The device may extend throughout a whole work of self-criticism: this is called a palinode after the poem by StesichorusOpens in new window in which he recanted his earlier harsh words about Helen of TroyOpens in new window. ChaucerOpens in new window also used the palinodeOpens in new window as a device in The Legend of Good WomenOpens in new window, presented as an apology for his Troilus and CriseydeOpens in new window. In his ErrataOpens in new window, a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Queneau" target="_blank">Raymond QueneauOpens in new window criticizes his own theory concerning the growing importance of spoken over written language. — (Bernard Marie Dupriez, A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A – zOpens in new window)

Notable Examples

  1. I’m just as curious to see how things turns out—actually I’m anxious.
  2. After everything he came begging, he was particularly being apologetic, even showing emo…s…remorse, so to say.
  3. “He in a few minutes ravished this fair creature, or at least would have ravished her if she had not, by a timely compliance, prevented him”

    —(H. Fielding, Jonathan Wild, book 3, ch. 7).

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