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Euphuism

Euphuism is a literary term that describes a style of English prose. It features ornate, overly complicated language. It is deliberately excessive.

When something is written in this style, the author includes far more words than are necessary. They may repeat clauses and use techniques like anaphora. The latter refers to the use of the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. Epistrophe can also be found in the writing of this style. It occurs when the poet or author repeats the same word or words at the end of lines. 

This style of prose was fashionable, among some writers, for a time. Particularly around the 1580s after the publication of John Lyly’s works. 

The term comes from John Lyly’s Euphuses: The Anatomy of Wit. The name “Euphuses” comes from the Greek,  ευφυής meaning “graceful” or “witty.” 

Euphuism pronunciation: ew-foo-eh-zum

Euphuism Definition and Examples


Euphuism Definition

Euphuism is a much-criticized style of writing (that can mainly be found in the English language but has also been noted in Spanish, Italian, and other European languages) that features heavily ornate phrases and repetition. It’s not uncommon to find oneself reading the same phrase multiple times, enchanting unnecessary words, or even becoming frustrated because sentences can be quite long. Often, as in the case of periodic sentences, the point of a sentence is not revealed till the very end. 

Other literary devices that authors use to create euphuism include alliteration, rhetorical questions, and antitheses. The latter occurs when two contrasting ideas are put together to achieve the desired outcome. For example, Milton’s Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.” 

Alliteration occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Can any treasure in this transitory pilgrimage be of more value than a friend?” from Lyly’s works. Finally, rhetorical questions are questions the author poses but doesn’t expect an answer to. The latter example is also an example of this literary device. 

John Lyly and Euphuism

When studying the literary device euphuism, readers are sure to come upon the name “John Lyly.” It is for his works Euphuses: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and his England that the literary device is named. The first of these, Euphuses: The Anatomy of Wit, is the better-known of the two. It is a romance published in 1578. Below, readers can explore a few examples from John Lyly’s works that feature the best examples of euphuism.

Features of Euphuism

There are a few key features that readers can look for in examples of euphuism. These include: 

  • The use of equal-length phrases one after another. 
  • The use of similar sounds and syllables in successive words and sentences. 
  • A balanced use of  elements in sentences, again seen one another after. 

Take a look at the examples below in order to see these principles in action.

Examples of Euphuism

Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit by John Lyly

In this 1578 didactic romance, the author includes the following quote: 

It is virtue, yea virtue, gentlemen, that maketh gentlemen; that maketh the poor rich, the base-born noble, the subject a sovereign, the deformed beautiful, the sick whole, the weak strong, the most miserable most happy. There are two principal and peculiar gifts in the nature of man, knowledge and reason; the one commandeth, and the other obeyeth:

In this excerpt, readers can find a number of literary devices that add to the overall feeling of the text. For example, alliteration and repetition are seen in the first lines with the use of “virtue” and “maketh.” “Subject” and “sovereign”, as well as “base-born”, are other examples. The balance between phrases in this excerpt is another feature of euphuism. This is especially effective when the sentences come after one another. 

Here is another quote from this literary work. 

How frantic are those lovers which are carried away with the gay glistering of the fine face? The beauty whereof is parched with the summer’s blaze and chipped with the winter’s blast: which is of so short continuance, that it fadeth before one perceive it flourish. 

Here, Euphues is giving a speech to a group of women on the qualities of the mind versus the nature of the body. This quote provides readers with examples of one of the primary features of euphuism: the use of corresponding sounds and syllables. For example, using alliteration in two words that already have the same number of syllables. “Base-born” from the previous quote is an excellent example of this, as are “fadeth” and “flourish” and “fine face” from this quote. 

FAQs 

Why do authors use euphuism? 

Authors use this style of writing when they want to create a specific tone for a character or experience. A character who speaks like this is trying to present themselves as educated or of an upper-class. An author might use it to mimic the style of John Lyly or even in order to poke fun at that style of writing. 

What is an example of euphuism?

An example is: “Is it not far better to abhor sins by the remembrance of others’ faults than by repentance of thine own follies?” This comes from John Lyly’s Euphuses: The Anatomy of Wit. 

Who invented euphuism?

John Lyly is considered to be the originator of the style of writing. It can be seen in his works Euphuses: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and his England. But, other writers did experiment with the style, especially in the late 1500s. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Antithesis: occurs when two contrasting ideas are put together to achieve a desired outcome.
  • Repetition: an important poetic technique that sees writers reuse words, phrases, images, or structures multiple times within a poem.
  • Anadiplosis: the repetition of words so that the second clause starts with the same word/s that appeared in the previous.
  • Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession.
  • Diacope: a literary term that refers to the repetition of a word or phrase.
  • Epistrophe: the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple clauses or sentences.


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