Professor Bain defines “Epigram” as “an apparent contradiction in language which by causing a temporary shock arouses our attention to some important meaning underneath.” While in oxymoron two words or ideas are placed side by side, in this figure normally two contradictory ideas are presented in two expressions. But some amount of thinking reveals that there’s a sharp, indirect meaning hidden inside the expressions. Though this figure is mainly used in literature, it’ also found in other kinds of writing. The following are some examples of epigram.
· Speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts.
· Cowards die many times before their death.
– Shakespeare: Julius Caesar
· I must be cruel only to be kind.
– Shakespeare: Hamlet
· Make haste slowly.
· Happiness has become the greatest cause of his unhappiness.
· Most of the time the richest are the poorest.
As you have already got the hint, this figure of speech gives indirect meanings. At the first thought you get a twist in the mind, and at the second thought you come to know the real meaning. It arouses thought because it requires some thought. This figure, apart from being used in literary writing, can be very meaningfully used in the opening or closing sentences of articles, paragraphs, and the like. Quotations containing this figure can be used toward much effectiveness at the beginning, end, or middle of any piece of writing. A drill with the following exercises will enable you to grasp its use more clearly.
Test Yourself and Learn Better
1. A good artist should do the work of art in such a way which will show the piece of work as natural. The less the work is artificial, the more artistic it is. Such a work should witness the fact that the artist has not made deliberate and experienced effort to create it; rather it has flown from his/her imagination spontaneously. Actually _______________________________________
Complete the above blank with a sentence which contains an epigram.
2. Newton said that he knows very little. But as compared with the average man like us, he knew thousand times as much as we do. All the scholars of the world said they little knew about the universe. On the contrary, to our surprise, those who know little believe they know much. Actually_______________________________________
Complete the sentence using the figure epigram.
3. _________________________. I(Sabuj- the Bipu Sona) got proof of this statement when I was face-to-face with Nishat Sultana Rimu. She didn’t say a word. Not a single word. And nor did I. But the atmosphere seemed to be full of eloquence. I seemed to be listening to a shower of words. The silence was meaningful- full of communication.
Fill in the beginning gap with an epigram.
4. When we’re tired of sleeping, we take leisure in getting up. When, on the other hand, we are tired of working, we seek pleasure in a kind of leisure in rest. But rest can give us no pleasure unless we work. Hence, only those who work hard can enjoy the pleasure of leisure. In other words,_______________________________________________.
Fill in the gap with a sentence containing an epigram.
1. The busiest man has the amplest leisure.
2. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.
3. Those who have knowledge know that they know little.
4. Art consists in concealing art.
Remember: The epigram has a deeper meaning which is clear only at the second thought. Also remember that oxymoron is an extreme form of epigram.