Chiasmus and Chiastic Quotations

If you aren’t sure what chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus) means, you have a lot of company. Most people — even the most sophisticated and literate people — aren’t. Chiasmus occurs when the order of words is reversed in parallel expressions.

While you may not be familiar with the word, you’re well acquainted with the phenomenon, for it shows up in thousands of famous quotations. Here are some examples:

“Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders, or God one of man’s blunders?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“The soul is born old, but grows young.
That is the comedy of life.
And the body is born young and grows old.
That is life’s tragedy.”
– Oscar Wilde

“I realize the full significance of the singular fate which has led me to play with all the serious things of life and to deal seriously with all its plays.” – George Bernard Shaw

“O powerful love,
that in some respects makes a beast a man,
in some other, a man a beast.”
– William Shakespeare

“Nature is no more than art; art is no more than nature.” – Confucius

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” — Matthew 23: 11-12

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy

“Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden because it is hurtful.” – Benjamin Franklin

“All I can say is that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” – Winston Churchill

“Let us never negotiate out of fear; but let us never fear to negotiate.” – John F. Kennedy

“When a man says he has exhausted life one always knows life has exhausted him.” – Oscar Wilde

“It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men.” — Mae West

“It is feeling that sets a man thinking and not thought that sets him feeling.” – George Bernard Shaw

“It’s easier facing loss, if you care little about losing face.” – Dennis Ridley


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