Repetition and rhythm can make mundane ideas have tremendous impact. A great example of this done in a very specific way is chaismus. While its use has been traced back to ancient texts, including the Bible and works of classical Greek and Latin authors, its formal identification and naming as a distinct rhetorical device occurred much later. But what is chiasmus exactly? 

What is Chiasmus in Literature?

First, let’s define chiasmus

The term 'chiasmus' comes from the Greek word 'chi,' which means 'crossing.' This term was used to describe rhetorical or literary figures in which words or concepts are repeated in reverse order. Let's look at the definition of chiasmus to understand how it functions. 


What is chiasmus?

At its core, chiasmus involves the repetition of similar ideas in an 'ABBA' pattern. More specifically, it's a figure of speech where two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures to make a larger point. 

A simple example is "Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you." Here, the reversal of words creates an impactful statement. 

Chiasmus Examples

  • "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." 

  • "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." – The Bible, Matthew 20:16. 

  • “Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure.” (Lord Byron, “Don Juan”)

What is Chiasmus Used For?

Uses of Chiasmus

Chiasmus, a rhetorical device widely employed across various platforms and genres, serves multiple purposes. Let's look into its versatility and explore how it adds value in different contexts.

Poetry and Prose

Chiasmus offers a powerful tool to create balance, tension, or dramatic effect within the lines of a poem or the paragraphs of prose. By reversing the structure or order of words or phrases, it adds a captivating twist that leaves a lasting impact on readers.

Chiasmus is everywhere in literature and poetry once you start looking for it. For instance, consider this line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” 


Speechwriters often harness the potential of chiasmus to make key points more memorable and impactful. By employing this technique, they can create a sense of rhythm and symmetry that resonates with the audience, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the speech. 

An example of this comes from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

JFK  ·  “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You”

Advertising and Marketing

Chiasmus finds its place in the world of advertising and marketing as a clever way to make taglines stick in the minds of consumers. By using a reversed or mirrored structure, marketers can craft catchy and memorable slogans that leave a lasting impression, helping to reinforce brand awareness and recognition. A great example of this is the popular slogan for Kit Kat - "Have a break, have a Kit Kat."

What is Chiasmus Kit Kat Advertisement with Chiasmus StudioBinder

Kit Kat  ·  Advertisement with Chiasmus

Chiasmus serves as a versatile tool that adds depth, impact, and memorability across poetry, prose, speeches, and marketing campaigns. Its unique structure and rhetorical power make it a valuable asset in various creative and persuasive endeavors.

Chiasmus Meaning and Function

Why Chiasmus is Effective

Chiasmus, a powerful rhetorical device, possesses the remarkable ability to reframe ideas and enhance their memorability. How?

What is Chiasmus in Literature?

Reframing Ideas

Chiasmus can transform statements, lending them an air of profundity and thought provocation. By reversing the structure and order of words or phrases, chiasmus creates a captivating symmetry.

Profound Impact

The inherent symmetry of chiasmus often makes statements appear more profound, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. It has a unique way of capturing attention and sparking introspection.

Improved Recall and Comprehension

Chiasmus demands closer attention from readers or listeners, stimulating their cognitive processes. This heightened engagement leads to improved recall and comprehension, ensuring that the message resonates long after it is heard.

Chiasmus, though a simple device, can have a profound impact on how we communicate and how our messages are received. Whether you’re a writer, a speaker, or a lover of language, understanding chiasmus can help you leave a more impactful message or story with your reader or audience. Be sure to look for more opportunities to use it.

Up Next

What Are Rhetorical Devices?

Chiasmus can be found in various forms of artistic expression, and its continued use is a testament to its effectiveness. Learn more about rhetorical devices in our next article where we explore a broader landscape of language.

Up Next: What Are Rhetorical Devices? →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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