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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Metalepsis (from Greek Μετάληψις) is a figure of speech in which one thing is referred to by something else which is only remotely associated with it. Often the association works through a different figure of speech, or through a chain of cause and effect. Often metalepsis refers to the combination of several figures of speech into an altogether new one. Those base figures of speech can be literary references, resulting in a sophisticated form of allusion.

A synonym for metalepsis is transumption, derived from the Latin transsumptio invented by Quintilian as an equivalent for the Greek.


  • "I've got to go catch the worm tomorrow."
    • "The early bird catches the worm" is a common maxim in English, advocating getting an early start on the day to achieve success. The subject, by referring to this maxim, is compared to the bird; tomorrow, the speaker will awaken early in order to achieve success.


"For the nature of metalepsis is that it is an intermediate step, as it were, to that which is metaphorically expressed, signifying nothing in itself, but affording a passage to something. It is a trope that we give the impression of being acquainted with rather than one that we actually ever need." -- Quintilian, [1]

"But the sense is much altered & the hearer's conceit strangely entangled by the figure Metalepsis, which I call the farfet, as when we had rather fetch a word a great way off then to use one nearer hand to express the matter as well & plainer."

Puttenham, George (1569), The Arte of English Poesie,  .

"In a metalepsis, a word is substituted metonymically for a word in a previous trope, so that a metalepsis can be called, maddeningly but accurately, a metonymy of a metonymy."

Bloom, Harold (1975), A Map of Misreading, Oxford University Press,  .

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