Amplification is a rhetorical term for all the ways that an argument, explanation, or description can be expanded and enriched. Also called rhetorical amplification.
A natural virtue in an oral culture, amplification provides "redundancy of information, ceremonial amplitude, and scope for a memorable syntax and diction" (Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 1991).
In The Arte of Rhetorique (1553), Thomas Wilson (who regarded amplification as a method of the invention) emphasized the value of this strategy: "Among all the figures of rhetoric, there is no one that helpeth forward an oration and beautifieth the same with such delightful ornaments as doth amplification."
In both speech and writing, amplification tends to accentuate the importance of a topic and induce an emotional response (pathos) in the audience.
Examples and Observations
- "In amplification, writers repeat something they've just said while adding more details and information to the original description…
"The main purpose of amplification is to focus the reader's attention on an idea he or she might otherwise miss."
(Brendan McGuigan, Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers. Prestwick House, 2007)
One of the Biggest Trees in Pittsburgh
- "A massive tree centuries old holds out against the odds here across from my mother's house, one of the biggest trees in Pittsburgh, anchored in a green tangle of weeds and bushes, trunk thick as a Buick, black as night after rain soaks its striated hide. Huge spread of its branches canopies the foot of the hill where the streets come together. Certain times of day in summer it shades my mother's front porch. If it ever tore loose from its moorings, it would crush her house like a sledgehammer… " (John Edgar Wideman, "All Stories Are True." The Stories of John Edgar Wideman. Random House, 1996)
Bill Bryson on Britain's Landscapes
- "In terms of natural wonders, you know, Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with a few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known--almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is." (Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 2015)
Dickens on Newness
- "Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their place was new,… their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly-married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French-polished to the crown of his head." (Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, 1864-65)
- "Goethe's final words: 'More light.' Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: 'More light.' Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home--Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light." (Chris Stevens, Northern Exposure, 1992)
Henry Peacham on Amplification
- In The Garden of Eloquence (1593), Henry Peacham "describes the effects of amplification in the following manner: 'It is full of light, plenty and variety causing the orator to teach and tell things plainly, to amplify largely, and to prove and conclude mightily.' The very wording of this passage demonstrates the procedure of amplifying one term, amplification itself, and that with the purpose of catching the reader's attention."
(Thomas O. Sloane, Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Oxford University Press, 2001)
- "Judgment is to be exercised in deciding what thoughts require amplification and what do not. A greater degree of expansion is necessary in oral than in written discourse; and in popular works than in purely scientific. A brief exposition may be sufficient for those who have some acquaintance with the subject, while in addressing those of less intelligence a greater fullness of details is necessary. It is always a most serious fault to dwell on what is unimportant, trivial, or what can be supplied by the reader; it indicates a want of the power of just discrimination on the part of the writer." (Andrew D. Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, 1875)
The Lighter Side of Amplification: Blackadder's Crisis
- "This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you've got a moment, it's a twelve-story crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying 'This Is a Large Crisis.' A large crisis requires a large plan. Get me two pencils and a pair of underpants." (Rowan Atkinson as Captain Blackadder in "Goodbyeee." Blackadder Goes Forth, 1989)
Etymology: From the Latin "enlargement"