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Updated May 15, 2023

Exploring the Rhetorical Device of Thaumasmus: A Phenomenon of Astonishment

Are you curious about the world of rhetoric and its captivating devices? Look no further, as today we dive into the intriguing concept of thaumasmus. This rhetorical device, rooted in the art of persuasion, aims to evoke a sense of astonishment in the audience. Join us on this linguistic journey as we explore the power and impact of thaumasmus through accurate examples.

Understanding Thaumasmus: A Definition

Thaumasmus, derived from the Greek word "thaumazein" meaning "to marvel," is a rhetorical device that captivates the audience by creating a sense of astonishment or wonder. It is often utilized to emphasize a stark contrast or an unexpected turn of events, leaving a lasting impression on the listeners or readers.

Examples of Thaumasmus in Literature

  1. Shakespeare's Macbeth - Act 1, Scene 3:

    "So foul and fair a day I have not seen."

    In this famous line, spoken by the character Macbeth, the use of thaumasmus highlights the paradoxical nature of the day. It conveys the character's astonishment at the day's unusual combination of both foul and fair elements, setting the stage for the subsequent unexpected events.

  2. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit:

    "He was altogether bewildered and looked like one that had stumbled out of a bush."

    In this passage, thaumasmus is employed to describe Bilbo Baggins' appearance after his encounter with the magical world. The use of the device amplifies the astonishment Bilbo feels, as he finds himself in an entirely unfamiliar and enchanting environment.

Thaumasmus in Speeches

  1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech:

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

    Thaumasmus can be found in the contrast between being judged by skin color versus the content of one's character. This evokes a sense of astonishment and highlights the speaker's vision of a future where racial discrimination is overcome.

  2. Barack Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address:

    "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America."

    In this sentence, the use of thaumasmus emphasizes the unexpected notion of unity in a divided political landscape. The rhetorical device enhances the impact of Obama's message, calling for a collective effort to bridge political divisions and work towards a unified nation.

Impact of Thaumasmus

Thaumasmus serves as a powerful tool in rhetoric, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. By evoking a sense of astonishment, this device amplifies the emotional impact of a message and helps to engage the listeners or readers more effectively. Whether used in literature or speeches, thaumasmus has the ability to captivate, surprise, and inspire, making it a valuable asset in persuasive communication.

In conclusion, thaumasmus, the rhetorical device of astonishment, adds a touch of wonder and surprise to various forms of communication. Through its skillful implementation, it enhances the impact of literary works and speeches alike. So next time you encounter a piece of writing or listen to a captivating speech, keep an eye out for the powerful effects of thaumasmus.

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