Definition of Accumulation

Accumulation is a figure of speech in rhetoric that creates a list or gathers scattered ideas in a way that builds up, emphasizes, or summarizes the main point. Accumulation is an example of addition in rhetoric, using a “more the merrier” approach to illustrating the theme of a passage. Addition in rhetoric is also known as adiectio, while the definition of accumulation is the same as that of congeries and accumulatio. Accumulation is part of a group of figures of speech in rhetoric called enumeratio. Note that accumulation often has some repetition included, especially anaphora in which a word is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. However, to qualify as accumulation the repetition must have a sense of adding on to a list and not simply repeating the same thing over and over.

The word accumulation comes from the Latin word for “to amass.”

Common Examples of Accumulation

There are many famous examples of accumulation in speeches, songs, interviews, advertisements, and so on. Here are some examples of accumulation, both famous and more obscure:

I’ve been to:
Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana,
Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana,
Monterey, Faraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa,
Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock, Oskaloosa,
Tennessee to Tennesse Chicopee, Spirit Lake,
Grand Lake, Devils Lake, Crater Lake, for Pete’s sake.

—“I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash

St. Augustine founded it. Becket died for it. Chaucer wrote about it. Cromwell shot at it. Hitler bombed it. Time is destroying it. Will you save it?

—Slogan for Canterbury Cathedral in England

I guess to be an American writer means, uh, I have dined multiply at drive-thru windows and that I have no choice but to occasionally darken the inside of a shopping mall, and that I come from a country of former slave-owners…and it means, hmm, that I like artificial cheese food products, and it means that I conceive of nature as an expanse of space, and it means that I believe that spirituality is best experienced in landscapes emptied of human beings, and it means that I like to spin the dial on a television set, just can’t stop myself from spinning that dial, and it means that I only speak one language well…and it means that I look to Europe for a definition of the ‘high’ arts, and it means that I sometimes can’t tell the difference between ‘high’ and ‘low’ arts…and it means I can’t imagine anyone would disagree with all these American things.

—Rick Moody interview in “The Paris Review”

Significance of Accumulation in Literature

Accumulation can be an effective rhetorical strategy to create a sense of momentum towards a climax or conclusion. Authors may use accumulation to summarize all that’s come up until a certain moment, or to almost overwhelm the reader by heaping on more and more information. Accumulation can be also used to illustrate the main idea by exploring its many different facets and clarifying it. Accumulation can be found in every type of literature, from ancient drama to literary novels to poetry both old and contemporary.

Examples of Accumulation in Literature

Example #1

PRINCE HENRY: A tun of man is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that gray iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?

(Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare)

William Shakespeare is famous for the eloquence and inventiveness of his writing, but this doesn’t only apply to his beautiful sonnets and tragic monologues. Shakespeare was just as clever with his invective and insults, as we can see in the above excerpt from Henry IV, Part 1. Prince Henry is criticizing Falstaff in a myriad of ways, using accumulation to express his ire and overwhelm Falstaff. This quote contains anaphora with Henry beginning each new insult with “that.”

Example #2

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall…

(“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg)

Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” is one very long example of accumulation. The excerpt above begins part one of the poem, and the “sentence” that is starts does not end for almost one hundred lines (each line being quite long in itself). Each of the three parts of “Howl” contains very strong use of anaphora, which is to say that each line begins in the same way. Ginsberg wanted the poem to be very striking in its imagery and sound, and used the technique of accumulation and long lines to create a sense of breathlessness.

Example #3

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what’s immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.

(“Dwelling” by Li-Young Lee)

Li-Young Lee’s short poem “Dwelling” ends with the short stanza excerpted above, which contains the anaphora example of each line beginning with “and.” This is also an accumulation example that builds toward a sense of conclusion by offering three distinct yet collaborating views of intimacy.

Example #4

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

(Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst)

Even the title of Judith Viorst’s book for children Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is an example of accumulation. Alexander proves just how bad his day is going by showing all the problems that have already occurred before breakfast. This accumulation of frustrations is familiar to us all, when we think that the universe must be against us because nothing seems to be going right. This excerpt also proves that accumulation and other similar rhetorical devices are prevalent not just in famous literature, but also is appropriate for children’s stories. In fact, it is sometimes more common in children’s books just because the repetition and adding on of ideas makes the book more memorable for kids.

Test Your Knowledge of Accumulation

1. Which of the following statements is the best accumulation definition?
A. Adding redundant statements until a reader is sick of the main idea.
B. Subtracting important information so that the main idea is obscure.
C. Amassing similar or dissimilar things in a list so as to provide a sort of climax.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]
Answer: C is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

2. Which of the following advertising slogans for Pepsi is an accumulation example?
A. You’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give.
B. Lipsmackin’, thirstquenchin’, acetastin’, motivatin’, goodbuzzin’, cooltalkin’, highwalkin’, fastlivin’, evergivin’, coolfizzin’ Pepsi.
C. Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, 12 full ounces, that’s a lot, Twice as much for a nickel too, Pepsi-Cola is the Drink for you! Nickel, nickel, nickel, nickle, Trickle, trickle, trickle, trickle.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]
Answer: B is the correct answer. Note that C is not an example of accumulation because the words are merely repeated and not amassed to make a greater whole.[/spoiler]

3. Which of the following Shakespearean insults contains an example of accumulation?

SECOND LORD: A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.

(All’s Well That Ends Well)

JAQUES: …his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage…

(As You Like It)

HAMLET: Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.


[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]
Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]