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Do you think this sentence is a example of zeugma(syllepsis) or ellipsis?

This decline in vigor with the passing of time is called ageing. It is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make that we must decline in this way, that if we escape wars, accidents and disease we shall eventually "die of old age", and that this happens at a rate which differs little from person to person, so that there are heavy odds in favour of our dying between the ages of sixty-five and eighty.

I think all the three that-clauses are all governed by 'it is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make', i.e.

It is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make that we must decline in this way.

It is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make that if we escape wars, accidents and disease we shall eventually die of old age.

It is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make that this happens at a rate which differs little from person to person.

Am I right to understand this sentence in such a way? Is it a example of zeugma (or syllepsis) or is it simply a kind of ellipsis?

Here is the full paragraph where this sentence is from:

At the age of twelve years, the human body is at its most vigorous. It has yet to reach its full size and strength, and its owner his or her full intelligence; but at this age the likelihood of death is least. Earlier, we were infants and young children, and consequently more vulnerable; later, we shall undergo a progressive loss of our vigour and resistance which, though imperceptible at first, will finally become so steep that we can live no longer, however well we look after ourselves, and however well society, and our doctors, look after us. This decline in vigour with the passing of time is called ageing. It is one of the most unpleasant discoveries which we all make that we must decline in this way, that if we escape wars, accidents and disease we shall eventually 'die of old age', and that this happens at a rate which differs little from person to person, so that there are heavy odds in favour of our dying between the ages of sixty-five and eighty. Some of us will die sooner, a few will live longer -- on into a ninth or tenth decade. But the chances are against it, and there is a virtual limit on how long we can hope to remain alive, however lucky and robust we are.

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The three "that" must be treated separately.


The first "that" has a partial meaning of "but", if "decline" implies "refusing":

"... discoveries which we ... make ... but must decline."

It is not used to start explaining the content of a discovery.

If "decline" refers to losing vigor (as clarified after editing), then the first "that" (together with what follows) is also part of the enumeration (see below).


The second and the third "that" are just the introductions to descriptions of discoveries:

  • if we escape wars, accidents and disease, we shall eventually "die of old age"
  • this happens at a rate which differs little from person to person

The last 2 clauses are just an enumeration (of discoveries) - you can see it as an ellipsis, but not a regular one.

  • Thank you, virolono! And virolimo, I have added the original paragraph in my post. Can I understand that the first 'that' clause(we must decline this way) is also an enumeration of the most unpleasant discoveries: we must decline in a way of slowly losing vigor? – daiyubao Apr 4 at 11:05
  • OK, I updated answer ;) – virolino Apr 4 at 11:22

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