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Auxesis

Auxesis is a literary device that is used to intensify the meaning and importance of a word, phrase, or idea.

Auxesis as a rhetorical device is not often heard. Instead, readers are more familiar with the terms hyperbole (rhetorical exaggeration), climax (ascending series of words), and amplificacio or amplification (rhetorical intensification). It is interesting to know that all three are types of auxesis, which occurs when writers deliberately overstate, intensify, or emphasize the truth or fact. This is intended to have a greater impact than stating the fact directly. The opposite of auxesis is called meiosis (or understatement).

Auxesis pronunciation: awk-si-sis or ok-sei-sis

Auxesis definition and examples


Auxesis Definition

There are several ways to define the figure of speech, auxesis that depends on the purpose it serves in a specific context. Generally, it means the arrangement of words or clauses in ascending order, the reference to something in disproportionate terms, and the gradual increment in the intensity of meaning.

Auxesis is originally a Greek word, “aúxësis”, which means “growth” or “increase”. It came from the Greek verb “auxánein,” meaning “to grow”. In rhetorics, auxesis means to make a subject matter seem greater than it actually is.

With regards to the purpose, auxesis includes three important types:

  • Hyperbole: is the use of exaggeration or overstatement that evokes strong feelings and lasting impressions.
  • Climax: is the arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in order of ascending importance to create an artistic effect.
  • Amplification: is used to expand upon any details to take the reader’s attention to the intricacies.


Auxesis Examples in Literature

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred years to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

In this carpe diem poem, the speaker is quite fascinated with his lover’s physical features. He says it would take him a “hundred years” to only praise her eyes and a hundred more while gazing at her forehead. Readers should not take this overstatement literally. Instead, they have to understand the purpose of the speaker in using such overarching adulations. It is because he cannot wait for such long years to just make love with her. He wants it to happen in their youth and cannot save it for the “last age”.

Auxesis is indeed used in this excerpt from Marvell’s poem. However, if we reread the lines we can find that the speaker is increasing the number of years in each line, starting from hundred years to ages. The speaker uses hyperbole as well as climax in order to make his point.

Othello by William Shakespeare

If thou dost slander her and torture me,

Never pray more;

abandon all remorse;

On horror’s head accumulate;

Do deeds to make heaven weep,

all earth amazed;

For nothing canst thou to damnation add

Greater than that.

Othello, Act IlI, Scene III

This speech is delivered by Othello to Iago. He is reminding Iago of the eternal punishment that will befall him if he is lying. Othello says, his actions will even make heaven weep and amaze the entire earth. In this way, he magnifies the act of lying to a certain degree that it is able to amuse heavenly creatures and the entire humankind. This is a use of auxesis.

Auxesis also occurs in a number of Shakespeare’s poems.

New Testament, Corinthians 13:13

Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror: then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

In this quote from the Holy Bible, the three concepts, faith, hope, and love are arranged in increasing order of importance. The last line amplifies or expands the meaning of the former lines by stating that love is the greatest of all.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”.

Merely this and nothing more.

In these lines, the speaker first amplifies his state of mind by introducing a number of emotions: wonder, fear, and doubt. Then he goes on to exaggerate the fact that no human being ever “dared” to dream what he has just dreamt of.

Read more Edgar Allan Poe poems.

Auxesis in Everyday Usage

Auxesis is often used in everyday speech. We use this device quite unknowingly. For example, when one says, “I can sleep for days,” they use auxesis. When one has to compare two or more things of their liking, they say, “This is good, this one is better, but that one is the best I ever had.” Some other common examples of auxesis are:  “I’m dying out of happiness,” “We can move the mountain with firm determination,” “I’m starving,” “The bag weighed a ton,” etc.

If the truth or fact is stated directly, it does not have the intended impact on the listener. With the addition of modifiers or some overstatement, the emotional impression of a fact on a person is best expressed. That’s why we often recourse to auxesis or one of its types in order to emphasize our point.

Auxesis vs. Climax

Scholars often make a distinction between the literary devices auxesis and climax. Climax is listed separately as a rhetorical device of arrangement rather than amplification. Auxesis, in contrast to climax, is used to intensify the meaning or impact. The most important difference between the two is that in climax the ideas are linked internally.

Auxesis vs. Meiosis

The opposite of auxesis is called meiosis, which is used to minimize the importance of something. It tries to downplay some idea, uncomfortable or unpleasant to utter. Auxesis tries to increase the importance of an idea by overstating the facts. In both cases, the truth is never told straightforwardly.

FAQs

What is the meaning of auxesis?

The rhetorical device “auxesis” has come from the Greek word “auxēsis,” which means to grow, increase, or amplify. It is used to inflate the meaning or emphasize a particular idea. Hyperbole is a common type of auxesis.

What is an example of auxesis?

Auxesis is said to be used when one intentionally describes an accident as a disaster or states a fact in disproportionately large terms. For example, if one points at a scratch on the skin as a wound, auxesis is used.

Why is auxesis used?

Auxesis is used to overstate, amplify, or emphasize a particular idea. It is often used to depict an idea in unbelievably large terms. Sometimes, it is used just to emphasize a particular idea that cannot be said straightforwardly to have a lasting impact.

What is the relationship between auxesis and hyperbole?

Hyperbole or exaggeration is a common literary device. Theorists consider it as a type of auxesis or amplification. Writers use auxesis to have a greater impact. They exaggerate facts or include hyperbolic statements for this purpose.

How are climax and auxesis different?

Theorists consider climax as a literary device distinct from auxesis. Climax is the arrangement of words, phrases, or ideas in an incremental series of importance. The ideas are internally linked. Whereas auxesis is a rhetorical device of amplification.


  • Meiosis: is a figurative device that is used to deflate the importance of a particular idea.
  • Litotes: is a literary device that is used to express a positive idea by the negative of its contrary.
  • Understatement: occurs when a writer uses an idea or situation as less serious than it actually is.
  • Pleonasm: is a rhetorical device that occurs when writers use two or more words to express one idea.
  • Rising Action: occurs after the exposition and before the climax of a story in order to create excitement.
  • Irony: occurs when the outcome is the opposite of what is expected.


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