I first heard the term zuegma in a course on Shakespeare. I don’t remember the Shakespearian example given, but the second was from Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Heels”:
You held your breath / And the door for me
That’s stuck with me because it’s such a perfect illustration of the term. But this post would be too short if I stopped there.
Loosely, zeugma is a figure of speech that defines when a single word is used to convey two separate things. Zeugma come in a variety where the word in question is used once to convey the same meaning twice or to convey a literal and figurative meaning of the same word, usually a verb.
Some of my favorite examples:
“Out teeth and ambitions are bared” – “Be Prepared,” The Lion King
“You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.” – Star Trek: TNG
“She came right on time and repeatedly.” – I don’t know if this is from something or I just made it up. I’m sorry and you’re welcome.
I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to zeugma. It’s clever, it’s unexpected, and it’s often used to underscore something more dramatic or sinister than what’s on the surface, so you could call it tricky. It’s almost like a little joke that makes you snicker, but when you fully comprehend the punch line you’re a bit alarmed with yourself for having laughed. In any case, it’s my favorite figure of speech.
I think we often say something is a “figure of speech” when referring to a specific idiom (“kick the bucket,” “six feet under,” “pushing up daisies,” and lots of others that aren’t morose), but FoS are all of the ways to express those idioms and the rhetorical devices we use to turn writing from just words into something worth reading.
I feel pretty strongly that creativity, writing and rhetoric specifically, come from within. You can be taught about certain things and then utilize them once you’re aware of them, but whether you utilize them effectively or cleverly is up to what you’re born with. If you’re a writer-type, you probably naturally utilize zeugma without even knowing what it is, but once you’re aware of the tool and how it functions, you can put it to its best use. And, in the best of cases, you can break all the rules around it.