A zeugma is a literary term for using one word to modify two other words, in two different ways. An example of a zeugma is, “She broke his car and his heart.”
When you use one word to link two thoughts, you're using a zeugma. Some literary experts distinguish a zeugma from a syllepsis by insisting that in a zeugma, only one of the two thoughts should make literal or grammatical sense. For example, you could use the zeugma, "I lost my keys and my temper." In Greek, zeugma means "a yoking," as in yoking one word to two ideas.
`Mr. Pickwick took his hat and his leave' is an example of zeugma”
Examples of Zeugma
The zeugma is an interesting literary device that uses one word to refer to two or more different things, in more than one way. Zeugmas will either confuse the reader or inspire them to think more deeply.
Here's a famous example from Star Trek: The Next Generation: "You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit." In this sentence, the word "execute" applies to both laws and citizens and, as a result, has a shocking effect.
Given the zeugma's risky role in a sentence, it's best to tread lightly when adding this kind of flavor to your writing. Let's examine some examples of zeugma so you can continue to add zest to your prose.
Zeugma can be used to create drama, add emotion, or produce a level of shock value. While there can still be an underlying sense of confusion, generally, a zeugma is used purposely.
Here are some examples:
All over Ireland the farmers grew potatoes, barley, and bored.
He fished for trout and for compliments.
He opened his mind and his wallet every time he went out with her.
He firmly held his tongue and her hand.
On our first date, I held my breath and the car door for her.
When he came to pick me up, I opened my door and my heart to him.
The disgruntled worker quickly took his belongings and his leave.
She kicked that bad habit and soon after the bucket.
The student observed the specimen with a microscope and some disgust.
The storm sank my boat and my dreams.
In quick succession, Susan lost her job, her house and her mind!
She had already exhausted her kids and her patience by the end of the first day of summer vacation.
"Yet time and her aunt moved slowly-and her patience and her ideas were nearly worn our before the tete-a-tete was over." - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
"They tugged and tore at each other's hair and clothes, punched and scratched each other's nose, and covered themselves with dust and glory." - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
All of these examples serve a particular purpose. Let's look at "The storm sank my boat and my dreams." This zeugma translates a more powerful meaning. Now, the feelings of sadness over the loss of a treasured boat and lifelong dream is more pronounced than something literal like, "My boat sank in the storm. I couldn't realize my dreams."