What is Syllepsis?

Syllepsis is agreement formed according to the figurative meaning of a word, or the mental conception of something spoken of, and not merely the literal or common sense of the term. The term syllepsis literally signifies conception, comprehension, or taking-together.

Rhetorically, this figure consists in the conception of one word in two different ways at the same time (applying the same single word to the others it governs in different senses) one meaning being literal and the other figurative; thus, “His boat and his dreams sank”.

Syllepsis, though in its typical execution bears semblance with Zeugma; nevertheless, it is contextually different from the ZeugmaOpens in new window figure.

The following is a notable example of syllepsis:

  1. “Fix the problem, not the blame.”

    — Dave Weinbaum

[Here, the verb “fix” governs both “problem” and “blame.” In its first instance, “fix” literally means “solve,” but this verb shifts its meaning when applied to its second object, where the figurative conception of it (“fix”) is taken to mean “assign.”]

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