sticho·​myth·​ia ˌsti-kə-ˈmi-thē-ə How to pronounce stichomythia (audio)
variants or less commonly stichomythy
: dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered by two actors in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama)
stichomythic adjective

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In stichomythia terse, contentious, and often biting lines are bandied back and forth. Characters engaged in stichomythia may alternately voice antithetical positions, or they may play on one another's words, each repartee twisting or punning on words just spoken to make a new point. Classical Greek dramatists, such as Aeschylus and Sophocles (who wrote Agamemnon and Oedipus the King, respectively), used this device in some of their dialogues. Shakespeare also used it in exchanges in his plays. For instance, in the Closet scene in Hamlet (Act III, scene iv), the Queen tells Hamlet "Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue" to which Hamlet retorts "Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue." Not to be idle with the origin of "stichomythia": the word is from Greek stichos (meaning "row," "line," or "verse") and "mythos" ("speech" or "myth").

Examples of stichomythia in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The pretext for drama, in the foreground, seems always to be a homicide, but around and beyond the forensic stichomythia that introduces character and circumstance there is a magnificent country, a virtual heaven. Marilynne Robinson, The New York Review of Books, 27 May 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'stichomythia.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Greek stichomythia, from stichomythein to speak dialogue in alternate lines, from stichos row, verse + mythos speech, myth; akin to Greek steichein to walk, go — more at stair

First Known Use

1861, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of stichomythia was in 1861


Dictionary Entries Near stichomythia

Cite this Entry

“Stichomythia.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

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