It’s Good to Know: Polysyndetonic Syntax

By Charlie Byrne

“Are you kidding? Oh, you’ve GOT to check out some of his stuff!”

Michael Masterson and Jon Herring had brought up Cormac McCarthy’s writing at the office last week, and Jon was surprised I wasn’t familiar with his work.

“I guess I should find time to read more than business books,” I lamely offered.

After our meeting, I dove into some research to allay my embarrassment. That’s when I found out McCarthy’s written All the Pretty Horses, The Road, No Country for Old Men, and 7 other novels.

But one note on Wikipedia really piqued my curiosity…

“All the books of the Border Trilogy are written in an unconventional format, omitting traditional Western punctuation, such as quotation marks, and making great use of polysyndetonic syntax.”

Polysyndetonic syntax? Huh? Of course, now I had to look THAT up. Here’s what I found…

According to A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms by Richard A. Lanham, polysyndeton is the “use of a conjunction between each clause. Milton says that Satan, in his course through Chaos, ‘pursues his way, /And swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies’ (Paradise Lost, II, 949-950).”

Here’s another example, straight out of McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses: “Rawlins took one of the lengths of a siderope from around his neck where he’d hung them and made a slipnoose and hitched it around the pastern of the hind leg and drew the leg up and halfhitched it to the horse’s forelegs. He freed the catchrope and pitched it away and took the hackamore and they fitted it over the horse’s muzzle and ears and John Grady ran his thumb in the animal’s mouth and Rawlins fitted the mouthrope and then slipnoosed a second siderope to the other rear leg.” (p. 104)

[Ed Note: Charlie Byrne is Creative Director at Early to Rise. Sign up for e-mail delivery of his blog and get edgy and useful ideas on copywriting, marketing, and other category-defying posts.]