Definition: the use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense
At length Mr. Stiggins ... took his hat, and his leave.
— Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836
The Dickens quote above is a classic example of syllepsis, a literary device that playfully links two phrases with different meanings and connotations by using one common verb. In this excerpt from The Pickwick Papers, Dickens joins together “take his hat” and “take his leave” to humorous effect.
Most syllepsis is employed for comedic effect, so it’s no surprise that Dickens seemed to be rather fond of it. There’s more syllepsis in The Pickwick Papers (“Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan-chair.”), Dombey and Son (“Mr. Dombey stiff with starch and arrogance...”), Bleak House (where one colonialist character speaks of “a view to the general cultivation of the coffee berry—and the natives”), Our Mutual Friend (“Mr and Mrs John Harmon...taking possession of their rightful name and their London house,”—just one of many examples), and this beautiful sylleptic garden-path of a sentence in Little Dorrit:
”Romance, however,” Flora went on, busily arranging Mr F.'s Aunt's toast, “as I openly said to Mr F. when he proposed to me and you will be surprised to hear that he proposed seven times, once in a hackney-coach, once in a boat, once in a pew, once on a donkey at Tunbridge Wells, and the rest on his knees, Romance was fled with the early days of Arthur Clennam...”
Another favorite haunt of syllepsis is in music, where lyrics like “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind” by the Rolling Stones, and Conway Twitty’s “She’s over thirty and under-loved” take advantage of the way the verb acts like a hinge, swinging meaning both ways.