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Adventures in Rhetoric: Homeoteleuton

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you listen to music and pay attention to the lyrics, it is very likely that you have heard plenty of homeoteleutons. Say what? Containing six syllables, the word is certainly a mouthful. A homeoteleuton (pronounced “ho me oh TEL yuh ton”) is a near rhyme, also known as a half rhyme or an imperfect rhyme. Homeoteleutons are especially prevalent in rap music. For example, take a look at this lyric from Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul”: “When I’m writing I’m trapped in between the line, / I escape when I finish the rhyme.” Line. Rhyme. Really close — but not a perfect rhyme. In the world of hip-hop music, a near rhyme is referred to as slant rhyme. In his song “Respiration,” rapper Mos Def rhymes the following words: narcotic-optics and watches-colossus. Clever.

Incidentally, the word homeotelueton was introduced by Aristotle, the greatest hip thought artist of Ancient Greece. Word. In his influential work, Rhetoric, Aristotle provided the primary meaning: the use of word-endings that are similar (or the same). The word is derived from the Greek word homoioteleuton which means “like ending.” Aristotle also included samples, which are um… all Greek to me. But here are some examples in English (emphasis added to word-endings):

Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address): “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground.”

William Shakespeare (The Two Gentlemen of Verona): “[My] mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands.”

Since the secondary meaning has already been discussed in the opening paragraph, let us now turn to the third meaning. A homeoteleuton is an error introduced by a scribe while transcribing a frequently reproduced book, like the Bible. For example, the Old Testament contains several textual errors (missing words or sentences) that scribes made while they were making copies of the Good Book. These errors have existed for hundreds of years until biblical scholars found the missing words or sentences in the Dead Sea scrolls discovered in the late 1940s.

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