"Amazingly odd and oddly amazing" - is there a name for this kind of phrase?
February 12, 2011 6:09 PM   Subscribe

What are these phrases called? Examples: "amazingly odd and oddly amazing"; "terribly basic and basically terrible"; "embarrassingly hot and hotly embarrassing". I could swear I came across a name for this type of word pairing once before (quite possibly on this very site, in which case sorry), but my searches to find it again have been hopelessly awful and awfully hopeless.

To be clear, I mean pairs of words where each has an adverb and an adjective form, and where swapping the order and forms produces another valid but distinct meaning.

I'd also love to hear more examples if you have them. Thanks!
posted by d11 to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How bad do you want to be good?
Do you want to be good real bad? (badly, but...)
posted by AugustWest at 6:22 PM on February 12, 2011

Best answer: Well, it's a type of chiasmus.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:25 PM on February 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Chiasmus?
posted by space_cookie at 6:26 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I suppose it's more accurately an example of antimetabole, since chiasmus doesn't require the repetition of the same words.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:28 PM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's called a chiasmus:

"The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the world's greatest dictionary, defines chiasmus as, 'A grammatical figure by which the order of words in one of two of parallel clauses is inverted in the other.'"

Oddly enough, I found the answer on Yahoo by googling the first phrase which came to mind: "working hard, or hardly working?"

On preview: woops, too slow. Oh well. There's another example for you, at least.
posted by junques at 6:30 PM on February 12, 2011

One of the many delights of Mystery Men is Wes Studi's deadpan Sphinx, who just can't stop talking like this. IMDB Memorable Quotes.
posted by drdanger at 6:30 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

There was also a chiasmatically-inclined John Lennon bit in...I want to say Upright Citizen's Brigade?
posted by rhizome at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2011

I came in to say antimetabole also.
posted by Errant at 8:12 PM on February 12, 2011

It sounds like you're requiring the same root words on both ends; in which case it's an antimetabole as opposed to a chaismus. On preview, what easy, lucky, free said.
posted by SquidLips at 8:34 PM on February 12, 2011

Not sure what they're called, sorry. However one of my favourites was by an Australian woman whose name escapes my Google-fu. She was commenting on the large numbers of single men in a mining settlement who were complaining about a lack of potential female partners as the town was overwhelmingly male. She said that for women the chance of finding a partner was high there, although many of the men were a little strange. "The odds are good, but the goods are odd".
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 1:51 AM on February 13, 2011

And here's the link.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 1:53 AM on February 13, 2011

MighstAllCruckingFighty: That Australian woman wasn't the only one to come up with that; see here for an example from 1997.
posted by cider at 4:25 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think some of John Lennon's lyrics use this rhetorical device ...

"There's nothing you can do that can't be done"

"There's nothing you can sing that can't be sung" -(All You Need Is Love)

"There's always something happening and nothing going on"

"There's always something cooking and nothing in the pot" -(Nobody Told Me)

Just the other day I was listening to those two songs and noting the similarity and wondering what that type of construction was called.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:51 AM on February 13, 2011

Best answer: Madame Morrible: You must be Nessarose, what a tragically beautiful face. And where is- [Turns to Elphaba and screams]
Elphaba: I'm the other daughter, Elphaba. I'm beautifully tragic.
posted by tantivy at 7:48 AM on February 13, 2011

I think several of wabbitwax's examples show the use of antithesis, rather than antimetabole, fwiw.
posted by just_ducky at 8:20 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! I think chiasmus was the word I had come across before, but antimetabole is indeed a bit more precise. In fact, both are still a little more general than what I was thinking of, but they are cool enough words that I don't mind there not being one that fits exactly!

I've now managed to find one of those glorious wikipedia lists full of this kind of thing. That there are fancy names for all of these devices pleases some deep part of me far more than is reasonable.
posted by d11 at 3:07 PM on February 13, 2011

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