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Title: Isocolon  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Siamese twins (linguistics), Glossary of rhetorical terms, Scheme (linguistics), Rule of three (writing), Colon
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Isocolon is a figure of speech in which a sentence is composed by two or more parts (cola) perfectly equivalent in structure, length and rhythm:[1] it is called bicolon, tricolon, or tetracolon depending on whether they are two, three, or four.[1] A well-known example of tricolon is Julius Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came; I saw; I conquered).

The term is derived from the Greek ἴσος (ísos), "equal" and κῶλον (kôlon), "member, clause". The plural is '-cola' but in English may also be '-colons'.[2]


  • Bicolon 1
  • Tricolon 2
  • Tetracolon 3
  • Special cases 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


An example of bicolon is the advertising slogan "buy one, get one" (you pay for one item but you get another free).[1]

In Biblical poetry it is standard to see a pair of adjacent lines of poetry in which the second echoes the meaning of the first.[3] This can be considered a bicolon.[3] For example:

  1. When Israel came out of Egypt, | Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
  2. Judah became God’s sanctuary, | Israel his dominion.
  3. The sea looked and fled, | the Jordan turned back;
  4. the mountains leaped like rams, | the hills like lambs.
  5. Why was it, sea, that you fled? | Why, Jordan, did you turn back?
  6. Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, | you hills, like lambs?
  7. Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, | at the presence of the God of Jacob,
  8. who turned the rock into a pool, | the hard rock into springs of water
Psalm 114


Veni, vidi, vici
— (Julius Caesar)
"I came; I saw; I conquered."
Nec tē noster amor nec tē data dextera quondam
nec moritūra tenet crūdēlī fūnere Dīdō?
Aeneid Book IV by Virgil
"Does our love not hold you, nor does my right hand having been given hold you, nor does Dido about to die with a cruel death hold you?"
...or the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.
John Locke, 1689, Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, §123

A tricolon that comprises parts in increasing size, magnitude or intensity is called a tricolon crescens, or an ascending tricolon.[4] Tricolon can sometimes be an hendiatris.

Similarly, tricolon that comprises parts that decrease in size, magnitude, intensity, or word length is called a tricolon diminuens, or a descending tricolon.

Abraham Lincoln used tricola in many of his speeches. His Gettysburg Address has the following phrase: "We cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow..." Lincoln wrote in his second inaugural address, "with malice toward none, with charity toward all, with firmness in the right...", which became the most famous expression in the speech. Winston Churchill also used the device frequently, perhaps most famously in August 1940 when referring to the Battle of Britain with the line "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." In this instance, a frequent literary device of making the third cola stand apart in meaning from the other two for emphasis is employed (much/many/few).

British Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his priorities for office in 1997 with a far simpler "Education, Education, Education". This reflects the clichéd real estate tenet of "Location, location, location" as the three most important features when buying a house. This latter phrase has been said to have been coined by Harold Samuel,[5] though it appears in print as early as 1926.[6] Both can be considered tricola.


Tetracola are sometimes called "quatrains" (cf. the usual meaning of quatrain).[3]

An example is Gabriele D'Annunzio:[1]

Era calcina grossa, e poi era terra cotta, e poi pareva bronzo, e ora è cosa viva.

Special cases

When a bicolon is so well-known that it becomes a fixed expression, then it is a special type of collocation known as a Siamese twin. Not all linguistic Siamese twins are bicolons or tricolons, however.

Examples of Siamese twins that are bicolons or tricolons:

Examples of Siamese twins that are not bicolons or tricolons:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Dizionario di retorica e stilistica, UTET, Toino, 2004. ISBN 9788877508850
  2. ^ cf. "Bicola, Tricola, Paired Tricola, and Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?" at [1]
  3. ^ a b c Tremper Longman, Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: wisdom, poetry & writings 3, p. 520
  4. ^ Latina ad Vitam: Poetry Device of the Day: Tricolon Crescens
  5. ^ Brodie, Sophie (14 November 2007). "It's location, location, location for Land Secs". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  6. ^ On Language: Location, Location, Location Safire, William; 26 June 2009.
  • Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford University Press, New York, 1971.
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680.  
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