Released on this day in 1980 was the film The Empire Strikes Back. The second installment of the original Star War trilogy, features the debut of one of the most memorable characters in the history of science fiction: Yoda. Although small and unimposing in appearance, Yoda is a wise and powerful Jedi master who trains Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force. Just as distinctive as Yoda’s appearance is his manner of speaking.
From the first words out of Yoda’s mouth when he meets Luke Skywalker, we realize something is different in his speech pattern:
Luke: I’m looking for someone.
Yoda: Looking? Found someone, you have, I would say, hmmm?
Yoda: Help you I can. Yes, mmmm.
Luke: I don’t think so. I’m looking for a great warrior. (1)
The reason Yoda’s manner of speaking seems odd to us is because it doesn’t follow the typical pattern of English syntax. The majority of sentences in English follow the subject-verb-object word order. In his speech, however, Yoda inverts the typical word order to verb-object-subject. For example, instead of saying to Luke, “You still have much to learn,” Yoda says, “Much to learn, you still have.”
Yoda’s syntax might seem alien, but it’s not. Generations of writers, especially poets, have used the rhetorical device called anastrophe (or inversion) to rearrange the syntactic furniture for effect (Anastrophe in Greek means “turning back or about.”). Using something other than the usual word order, makes the reader slow down a bit and spend a bit more time pondering a phrase or a clause. Anastrophe also allows writers to add emphasis to a particular word, just as you might move your sofa to a more prominent position in your living room.
So, for example, Shakespeare might have written:
The question is: to be, or not to be?
Instead, Shakespeare used anastrophe to alter the typical pattern, kicking off the most famous soliloquy in English with:
To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Kennedy might have said, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you”; instead, he inverted his words slightly, saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . .”
Today’s Challenge: “Try Not. Do…or Do Not. There Is No Try”
What are some of the most famous quotations in the English language? Brainstorm some famous quotations. Then, try your hand at applying anastrophe by changing the word order of at least three separate quotations. You can change the word order any way you like, as long as make sense it does.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . . -Charles Dickens
Revised with anastrophe:
The best of times, it was; the worst of times, it was
Here are a few classic quotations:
Give me liberty or give me death. -Patrick Henry
Speak softly and carry a big stick. -Theodore Roosevelt
Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. -Thomas Edison
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi
The unexamined life is not worth living. -Socrates
Necessity is the mother of invention. -Plato
With great power comes great responsibility. -Voltaire
The pen is mightier than the sword. -Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. -John Dalberg-Acton
Quotation of the Day: Much to learn, you still have. -Yoda