I recently recovered a book I bought more than 30 years ago. I had lended it to a friend, who, judging from the penciled-in notes, made good use of it. I am pleased. This book has a 28-page table of contents listing nothing but figures of speech. And they all have Greek or Latin names, often both. I can’t resist the temptation to share a few of these obscure words with you. I think you will discover that not only do we use a lot of these figures of speech, but you will be impressed that someone actually went to the effort of noticing and naming them. The book, by the way, is Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, by E. W. Bullinger. The Bible is an important part of our literary heritage, so even if you don’t particularly like Christian theology and all that, it won’t hurt you to be exposed to this piece of literature. And Bullinger’s tome is certainly full of good examples of these literary devices. That said, I’ll generally try to find examples elsewhere, too. (If you click that link and buy the book, by the way, Amazon says they will pay me a commission. If you do, drop me a line and I’ll send you the commission by way of PayPal or something. Call it a discount. Be prepared for a lot of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. In the original alphabets.)
First figure of the day
Epizeuxis (pronounced “epeezoiksis”) I used this figure myself when, on (ahem) the other social site, I plugged a recent post about mistakes. The post quoted some porn (chastely, of course), but I started my comment about the post with “Scandal scandal scandal!” Epizeuxis is when you repeat a word for emphasis with nothing between the words. I can quote myself, can’t I?
Scandal scandal scandal! I mention porn in the current Writing Rag. Even quote some! Of course I also mention (and quote) John Dryden. It’s all about the importance of mistakes. Val laughed out loud when I read the post to her.
Zeugma is when you use one verb for two words or phrases or clauses, especially if the left-out verb would be different. (It’s pronounced “zoigma.”) The idea is to call attention to the verb you use. For instance, you might say “They saw lots of thunder and lightening.” (On Mt. Sinai, for instance.) Take out the zeugma and you have the rather pedantic “They heard lots of thunder and saw lots of lightning.” Bleah.
Synezeugmenon. (soonehzoigmenon) This is the mouthful I’ve been waiting to get to. It’s a variant of zeugma, but it applies when the verb applies to more than two words, phrases, or clauses. Our example is the wonderfully witty song Have Some Madeira, M’Dear sung by at least The Limelighters, and written by I don’t know whom, and I’m too lazy to look it up. I quote a little more than the first verse:
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps,
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps:
Have some madeira, m’dear. You really have nothing to fear.
We’ll skip over the examples of symploce (simplahtchay) in the first half of the verse (She was…, she was…, she was…, etc) and go straight to what he hastened to put out: The cat, the wine, his cigar, and the lamps. Clever not only because they require the same literal verb, but because each needs a different meaning of the word. And the song leaves out all the verbs except the first one: Synezeugmenon! The song has a couple more examples of synezeugmanon; I invite you to follow the Limelighters link and enjoy them.
I included the first line of the second verse because it completes the thought so I don’t leave you hanging, and because it also contains a figure of speech. We call it a lie.