Asyndeton is a grammatical or literary device that eliminates the conjunctions typically used between phrases in a sentence. One common example is "Veni, vidi, vici," which is a Latin term meaning, "I came, I saw, I conquered." If asyndeton wasn't utilized in this sentence, it would include conjunctions, and would read, "I came, and I saw, and I conquered." The Gettysburg Address features a similar example, where Lincoln used the phrase, "of the people, by the people, for the people." This device was also used by Winston Churchill in his "We Shall Fight," speech, as well as in many classic Greek and Roman texts.
The use of asyndeton likely originated in ancient Greek, where it was used frequently by Aristotle and other writers. The term can be translated from Greek as "unconnected," as the words are not connected by traditional conjunctions like the words and, or, nor, yet, or but. This type of literary technique in which connecting words are eliminated may also be known as brachylogia or articulus.
The use of asyndeton is often intentional, as it gives text a unique emphasis or emotion. Without conjunctions, phrases maintain a faster, tighter rhythm. It can also be used to draw the reader's attention to a particular idea, or to indicate that a list of items is infinite or incomplete. Writers often use asyndeton to great effect when ending a novel, or to create a dramatic or a poignant moment.
This technique is most often applied to speech, and is less common in written works. Some people argue that it should never be used when writing, and instead should be reserved for speeches and oration. Others believe this device has a place in both of of these arenas. To maximize the effect of asyndeton, speakers must modulate their tone in between each phrase, which draws attention to the words. This allows the speaker to create a highly dramatic effect that is very difficult to create with standard sentence structure.
While asyndeton eliminates conjunctions, syndeton includes multiple or additional conjunctions. These two literary devices can be considered opposites, and can be used to create vastly different effects. Syndeton slows down speech, and results in a moderate, undulating rhythm. For example, the phrase, "She walks and runs and swims," is an example of syndeton. If the concept of asyndeton were applied to this sentence, it would instead read, "She walks, runs swims."