2LD: Accumulation & Adynaton

2LD posts will be featuring two literary devices. My goal is to learn all of these.  It is personally satisfying knowing the names and even the existence of these techniques, but more than that, knowing the word helps explain the beauty.  All of the times we think a sentence sounds superb, there is at least one literary device at work.  It is my goal to recognize and use them often.

First up is “accumulation.”  Accumulation is the rhetorical act of piling up a description for a single purpose.

Of all the examples I’ve found online (1, 2, 3, 4), I found 4 the most useful:

In the following examples, scattered arguments are gathered and presented together to make the point compact and forceful.

  • “He is the betrayer of his own self-respect, and the waylayer of the self-respect of others; covetous, intemperate, irascible, arrogant; disloyal to his parents, ungrateful to his friends, troublesome to his kin; insulting to his betters, disdainful of his equals and mates, cruel to his inferiors; in short, he is intolerable to everyone.” Attributed to Cicero,Rhetorica ad Herennium, IV.52
  • “A generation goes and a generation comes, yet the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and rushes back again to the place from which it rises. The wind blows south, then returns to the north, round and round goes the wind, on its rounds it circulates. All streams flow to the sea, yet the sea does not fill up.”   (Ecclesiastes, The Old Testament)

The repetition of description (the accumulation) is aimed at one purpose for each of these examples: in the first, the character is clearly no bueno; in the second, nature moves in cycles.

As with all of these 2LD posts, I’ll make my own example.  This example will be a meta-example, an explanation of the literary device AND an example of it in use:

Accumulation is the piling up, the stacking, the heaping of useful description

The gerunds (piling up, stacking, heaping) all mean the same thing, but they add to the description by emphasizing the quantity.


That was accumulation.  Now on to adynaton.

First off, how is it pronounced and where does this word come from?  As far as I can tell, it is pronounced a (cat) + dee + na (name) + tin.  Adeenatin.  It is a compound word from Ancient Greek meaning “without” + “I am able”.

As an English literary device, it is a hyperbole (an exaggeration) in the extreme.  So hyperbolic is this device that it would be impossible for the description to be real.

There are excellent lists of adynatons (technically the plural form of adynaton is adynata): 1, 2 .  However, the one that I think will stick in my head the best is this one:

“‘I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one of his cheek’, —Shakespeare 2 Henry IV 1.2.20-22″

It is physically impossible to grow a beard on the palm of one’s hand.  Therefore, it is an adynaton.

As for my own example, here it goes:

I’m so horny, I could fuck through a brick wall.

Happy literary devicing.