‘Fair Is Foul, and Foul Is Fair’: 16 Antimetaboles

An antimetabole is a rhetorical device in which words are repeated in successive clauses but in reverse order, such as the proverbs “fair is foul and foul is fair” or “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” The word itself comes from the Greek word ἀντιμεταβολή, which roughly translates as “turning around in the opposite direction.”

Antimetaboles have been around for a long time. “Eat to live, not live to eat” is often attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates. The Bible also has plenty of examples: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30). Antimetaboles, when done well, can be powerful, funny, or simply memorable. For this reason, they are just as popular among politicians as among playwrights and poets, as the following quotes show.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
— Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

All for one, one for all.
— Alexandre Dumas, “The Three Musketeers”

Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
— John F. Kennedy

Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.
— Lord Byron, “Don Juan”

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
— John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.
— Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.
— Frederick Douglass

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
— Unknown (often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln)

Let us preach what we practice — let us practice what we preach.
— Winston Churchill

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.
— George Orwell’s “1984”

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
— Common idiom possibly attributable to Green Hornets football coach John Thomas and definitely sung by Billy Ocean

I’m not a writer with a drinking problem, I’m a drinker with a writing problem.
— Dorothy Parker

If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.
— Stephen Stills,”Love the One You’re With”

With my mind on my money and my money on my mind.
— Snoop Dogg, “Gin and Juice”

People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.
— Bill Clinton

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
— Winston Churchill