asteismus  asteismus
 as-te-is'-mus from Gk. asteios, "of the city"
Also sp. asteismos, astysmus, astismus
facetia, urbanitas
the merry scoffe, civille jest, urbanity

Polite or genteel mockery. More specifically, a figure of reply in which the answerer catches a certain word and throws it back to the first speaker with an unexpected twist.
Less frequently, a witty use of allegory or comparison, such as when a literal and an allegorical meaning are both implied (see Bede).

In the following selection from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick vie to see which can outdo the other in the use of asteismus:

Benedick: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! [of not marrying] so some gentleman or other shall scape a predestinate scratch'd face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse, an 't were such a face as yours were.
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

—Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing 1.1:133-140

Related Figures
Related Topics of Invention
See Also
  Sources: Rufin; Bede 616-618; Susenbrotus (1540) 16 ("asteismus," "astysmus," "astismus," "urbanitas"); Sherry (1550) 46 ("astysmus," ""urbanitas"); Peacham (1577) D4r; Putt. (1589) 200 (#1—"asteismus," "the merry scoffe or the civill jest")

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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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