I can just hear you now: “Anne, are you making up words now? We’re still early on with The Editor’s Corner, for crying out loud.”
But no, this is a real word that comes from the Greek “bound together.” This is a literary/writing device that allows for what people might think is a “run-on sentence,” but it’s not. Specifically, it is used to bring rhythm, repetition, and emphasis on the connected ideas. It can also bring a sense of excitement to the reader, and get them to pay attention to the change of pace in your paragraph.
I’ve heard people complain about run-on sentences, but when I read them, I recognize when it’s polysyndeton at work. It’s not something you want to overuse, but careful placement of it will help pace your work.
Of course, this is not an easy device to use, which is why some people complain about run-on sentences. It takes work and experience and skill and all of your knowledge on how to avoid a run-on sentence.
(See what I did there? That was polysyndeton at work.)
Here is an example of polysyndeton from Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ – note the emphasis and urgency it creates for the reader:
“Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly–mostly–let them have their whiteness.”
By not separating these ideas, Angelou made the idea far more powerful and moving for the reader. It paints a vivid picture rather than giving you a laundry list that might make you yawn, instead.
That’s all there is to it! Next time you have a powerful passage you’d like to express to your readers, give polysyndeton a try. Just be sure to use it sparingly.
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