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Meaning of Antimetabole with Examples

Priyanka Athavale Feb 15, 2019
There are many figures of speech in English literature that serve the purpose of making a said word more interesting. An antimetabole is one such example, that has the power to make any sentence more effective and memorable.

Antimetabole Example

"In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party always finds you!" - Yakov Smirnoff
Antimetabole is a rhetorical literary device which is used to give words and phrases an artistic angle. The etymology of this term is that it is derived from the Greek words anti, meaning 'opposite', and metabolē, meaning 'to turn around'.
Hence, it means that one clause is turned around or transposed to obtain its opposite meaning, and then both the clauses are used in the same sentence. This is a very common figure of speech, and we come across its examples many a time. Although these two terms are very similar, there are some technical differences that set them apart. They are as follows.

Antimetabole vs. Chiasmus

A chiasmus uses one clause in its original and opposite form in a sentence. However, it does not always use the exact words of the clause to create an opposite meaning; it can arrange the words in a different order or skip some of the words in the clause.
An antimetabole uses the exact words of the same clause to change its meaning to the exact opposite. It does not replace or omit any of the words. Thus, we can come to a conclusion that all antimetaboles are chiasmatic, but not all chiasmatic sentences are antimetaboles.

A Bit Tricky

Unlike chiasmus, antimetabole is tricky to use because the sentence has to make sense when the words in the clause are interchanged to create the opposite meaning. There are more chances of a brand new, made-up-on-the-spot antimetabole to not make much sense.
Getting the hang of this figure of speech takes some time. Just remember, it also follows a word scheme like chiasmus. A word scheme is like a rhyme scheme, only that it denotes a repetition of one word.

For example: "We say (A) what we mean (B), and we mean (B) what we say (A)." Here, the word scheme is A B B A.

Why Use It?

An antimetabole is used to give a sentence a creative twist. It is also a figure of speech that has a higher chance of impacting the audience because of its artistic nature. You must have noticed that it is found in motivational speeches, when addressing public (speeches by a Government candidate standing for an election), and even extensively in literature.
Sentences using antimetaboles sound nice to the ears, and are thus more memorable. It has the capacity to make people laugh, or at least smile, which means that the message that was to be conveyed has been, and successfully.

Popular examples

Antometabole is used extensively in literature; but not just that, it is found in many songs as well. Some of the examples mentioned here are words said by famous people.

❖ "You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you." -Barack Obama

❖ "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." -Benjamin Franklin
❖ "We do what we like and we like what we do." -Andrew W.K., Party Hard

❖ "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." -Billy Preston

❖ "When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." -Frederick Nietzsche

❖ "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions." -The Sphinx, Mystery Men
❖ "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." -Carl Sagan

❖ "Women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget." -Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

❖ "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us." -Malcolm X
❖ "It is not how old you are, but how you are old." -Jules Renard

❖ "I don't throw darts at balloons. I throw balloons at darts." -Joe Montana

❖ "We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." -Benjamin Franklin
❖ "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better." -A. J. Liebling

❖ "It is not even the beginning of the end but is perhaps, the end of the beginning" -Winston Churchill
❖ "One for all, and all for one!" -The Three Musketeers, 1844

❖ "If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested." -Thomas Wolfe
It is now quite evident that antimetabole is a very popular literary device that is used extensively in literature, and in real life as well. It certainly is an effective method to get a message across, as it makes the words memorable.