Rhetorical Wrestling

Little-known fact: the first wrestlers modeled their moves on Greek rhetorical devices.

The Olympics recently decided to drop wrestling, its oldest sport, from the 2020 games. While the outraged wrestling community can do little but hope for a reversal, it was recently buoyed by the discovery of an ancient Greek text that shed light on the sport’s origins. The manuscript was found in the ruins of a Romanian monastery once revered for its devout wrestling monks and abandoned after a particularly nasty ringworm epidemic. Tentatively dated to 434 B.C., the document lends credence to a theory long held by some scholars of ancient athletics, namely that the first wrestlers modeled their moves on Greek rhetorical devices. The sport and the speaking art drifted apart such that by the time spandex appeared on the scene, nary a trace of wrestling’s rhetorical roots remained. The following are excerpts from the manual.


Anaphora: A basic but effective strategy in which one prefaces each takedown attempt with the same move, preferably by throwing dust into the opponent’s eyes. Not to be confused with Antistrophe, in which one concludes each takedown by gratuitously throwing dust into the opponent’s eyes.

Aposiopesis: To cut short a trash-talking opponent mid-taunt by suplexing him. Can also be used in political debates.

Apostrophe: To shout “uncle” during a particularly painful hold.

Anacoluthon: A standard misdirection tactic, such as beginning an ankle pick, then inexplicably transitioning into a rhythmic dancing routine.

Cacophony: Any move that audibly breaks no fewer than three bones at the same time. Often followed by an Apostrophe.

Catachresis: To throw your opponent into the air like a javelin migrating south for the winter to join its feathered friends.

Chiasmus: To ride one’s opponent into the mat such that his naked, oil-covered body leaves a stain in the shape of an X. Only to be attempted in exhibition matches.

Euphemism: Executed while in the top position with a hirsute wrestler, an attempt to curry favor by complimenting an opponent’s “centauric” figure.

Hyperbaton: In no circumstances is this move to be executed in polite society.

Irony: A move pioneered by Socrates in which the wrestler strolls around the outside of the ring with an air of amused detachment before executing a devastating hip throw. Closely related is Aporia, in which one feigns early onset senility to gain an advantage.

Litotes: A not uninteresting move that is a less than pleasant experience when not done incorrectly. Not to be confused with Hyperbole, which is only the most awesome move ever.

Oxymoron: A grand amplitude throw that makes one’s opponent flatline.

Paraprosdokian: Attempted only by those wrestlers who can remember what this term means. Often used in combination with Anadiplosis and Hypallage.

Pleonasm: To continue to execute moves on one’s opponent after he has been pinned, rendered unconscious or killed. Often done ironically.

Polysyndeton: To repeatedly bang an opponent’s head on the mat while muttering a conjunction between each thud. Similar to Asyndeton, except in that case, no conjunctions are required.

Prolepsis: To do a victory dance before the match starts. A risky strategy that could backfire by angering opponents and raising the suspicions of bookies.

Simile: To bend the opponent into a human pretzel until he admits that his elbow is in fact like his knee after all.

Synecdoche: A zealous refusal to engage with anything other than the opponent’s forearm. A variant of Metonymy, in which one challenges a former champion by eating his laurel wreath.

Zeugma: To perform an arm bar such that the opponent’s limb is simultaneously incapacitated and appears to be waving to the crowd. One is subsequently free to slam him down and his door to victory shut.

Illustration by Patrick Phipps for The Bygone Bureau

Matt Seidel's writing can be found at his website.