Sunday, 15 February 2009

Figures of Speech Part I

We all know by this point that I am a nerd. I have accepted this; more, I have claimed this. Yet it may still come as a shock to you that I am becoming interested in figures of speech. What does it mean to employ tropes or rhetorical devices? How does one theorize their usage? What can one, or does one necessarily, communicate when using a pun that one can/does not communicate using a metaphor? How different are metaphors and metonyms? Metaphors and similes? These are all fascinating questions to me, so I will write about them. You can vote with your views and read or not read to your desire. (Actually, you can't vote at all, 'cause I'll keep writing about it. Blogging is neither capitalist nor electoral. You still don't have to read, though.)

I am getting most of my information from the Bedford Glossary of English Theory and Criticism, or some such thing. We just call it "the Bedford."

I will start with a glossary of my own, pulled and paraphrased from the Bedford (which contains far more than just rhetorical devices).

Figures of Speech: "A literary device involving unusual [how unusual? some of these seem very common to me] use of language." By this I think they mean that figures of speeches are literary devices that either do not adhere to the standard signifier-signified relationship expressed by Saussure or do not follow strictly proper or natural grammatical sequences. Anyway, the Bedford says that numerous kinds exist, but that's a given. They are traditional divided into two types, those being rhetorical figures and tropes, though there are other differentiations as well. Whether or not particular devices are figures of speech--alliteration is one--is a matter of debate.

Rhetorical Figures: figures of speech that create an unexpected effect without significantly altering the word's meanings.

Tropes: figures of speech fundamentally change the meanings of words. The primary tropes are simile, personification, metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche. I have heard other uses or explanations of the word "tropes."

The Tropes

Metaphor: a trope that associates two distinct things; the representation of one thing by another (tenor by vehicle)-->equation, not comparison; there are two kinds, these being direct or implied. Direct metaphors use "is" or a similar being-state word or relationship. Implied metaphors do not. So, "Dave is a bear" is a direct metaphor. "Someone woke Dave up from his hibernation" is an implied metaphor (unless Dave is really an ursus americanus, in which case neither of these is a trope at all). Mixed metaphors use two very different vehicles to represent the same tenor: "He ploughed through a sea of paper work." Dead metaphors are some common and have been used so frequently that they are no longer remembered as metaphors by those who use them. For instance, "the spine of a book" is a dead metaphor.

Simile: a trope that compares two distinct things by using words such as like or as (though notably there are a few other prepositions that could work) to link the vehicle and tenor. Much is made of the distinction between the metaphor and the simile; while the simile indicates that the two concepts are alike, the metaphor says the two are identical. "Dave is as mean as a bear" is thus a simile, while "Dave is a bear" is a metaphor. A Homeric or epic simile is so elaborate and extended that the vehicle almost obscures the tenor. "The flea stood in the dog's hairs like a conquistador in the virgin Mexican forests, negotiating his way through the trees and Mayan customs to profit most from the fruits of the earth and the blood of the indigenous peoples" is a Homeric simile. I also used a dead metaphor, a zeugma, and some parallelism in there.

Personification: a trope that bestows human characteristics on anything nonhuman--an inanimate object, an animal or plant, a process, an abstraction. Prosopopoeia is a form of personification where the nonhuman figure can and does speak. What I wonder is whether prosopopoeia applies to such figures as Alex the grey parrot, who can and does speak--and possibly knows what it is he says, at least as much as a small child. And what about to chimpanzees and gorillas who use sign language?

Metonymy: a "change of name" in the Greek; a representation of one thing with another that is commonly associated with it. For instance, when a monarch (the tenor) is represented as "the crown" (the vehicle), or when the CEO is represented as "the chair," you have a metonym on your hands. Much has been made by the distinction between metaphor and metonymy, where one is comparison (Dave is like a bear in some way) and metonym (Dave is associated with the chair at the head of the table, which indicates he's the head of the company). Other people have said that since all association is arbitrary anyway, metonyms are really just a kind of metaphor, only twice-removed or something. I forget the details, but that's the drift.

Synecdoche: a trope in which the whole represents the part, or vice versa. If you call your car your "wheels" or you say a nice pair of legs walked down the street, you're employing synecdoche. You're also being a rather annoying "macho" man, and I'd prefer you stopped. It has nothing to do with your use of synecdoche, though. Synecdoche is cool. Note the difference between metonymy and synecdoche, between association and part. Do you think this is a significant difference?

Other tropes: allegory, conceit, and symbol are also tropes. I am not dealing with them right now.

The Rhetorical Figures

Amplification: the dramatic ordering of words to emphasize expansion of progression, such as "They met, kissed, and made love."

Anaphora: the exact repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines or sentences. "And I for Ganymede./ And I for Rosalind./ And I for no woman" in As You Like It is an example, though not a very telling one. There has been critical discussion, I am led to understand, about anaphora as a symptom of psychological disorder, pertaining to literary theory.

Antithesis: where two ideas are directly opposed, presented in a grammatically parallel way. The Bedford gave, "I long and dread to close," not to mention the famous quotation from Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I will add, "I hate you with all of my mind and want you with all of my body." (Ten bucks says that was some couple's Valentine's Day.)

Antonomasia: the regular substitution of an epithet for a proper name. If a satirical article were to consistently refer to Former President George W. Bush as "the cowboy president" instead of by his name, this would be antonomasia. It was also be cliche.

Aposiopesis: individual sentences that are left suggestively incomplete or dramatically broken off, possibly rendering the speaker speechless by emotion. A good indicator that this is being used is when you see a sentence ending with a long dash (--) or an elipsis (...). Of course, if you're in a Dickenson poem all the definitions in the world can't really help you with those dashes.

Asyndeton: the deliberate omission of conjunctions to create a terse, concise, memorable statement. This is often the name for a comma splice you don't intend to fix. Notable examples include Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" and the famous "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman!" Both of these are also amplification.

Chiasmus: a rhetorical figure where words, sounds, concepts, or syntactic structures are reversed or repeated in reversed order. The Bedford lists a slew of them: "Fair is foul and foul is fair"; "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan"; "Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate." I'll add my own: "He was quickly convinced to drive slowly." Notice the adverb verb verb adverb structure.

Hyperbaton: also known as anastrophe; the reversal of word order to make a point, such as Churchill's infamous quotation, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put," concerning the no-preposition-at-the-end-of-the-sentence rule.

Paralipsis: a speaker's assertion that he or she will not discuss something that he or she then goes on to discuss. This is also called something else which I can't decipher at the moment. "I don't need to tell you about the feast, so I won't discuss it's old cheeses and spicy sausages and fresh green peas and steaming buttered corn" is paralipsis. It's occultatio if it's used to conceal true motives: "Because the jury might have a weak stomach, I won't discuss the supper she gave me the night before the accident, which was boiled brussel sprouts" (sorry, readers, about the nauseating subject matter). It's occupatio when the speaker claims to be too busy to discuss what she discusses: "I have to go to class so I won't be able to tell you how Jeremy kissed Samantha in the bathroom this morning, and now Mark is upset."

Parallelism: the use of similar grammatical structure to emphasize or accentuate something. On a technical level, "The dog buried a bone, wetted a hydrant, and sniffed a tree," uses parallelism correctly, while the sentence, "The dog buried a bone, wetted a hydrant, and was smelly," is guilty of faulty parallelism (because the final verb is not active and does not have an object but rather an adjective). This is not a rhetorical figure as much as a grammatical rule. "She wanted to cuddle and he wanted the remote," is using parallelism as a rhetorical figure.

Pariphrasis: also known as pleonasm (I think); the use of elevated language, redundancy, and circumlocution, or the use of unnecessarily wordy and roundabout langage. Many dictionary entries are examples of pariphrasis. The Bedford gives "The finny tribe" for fish and Dogberry's speeches. Nixon's staff could be considered guilty of technical pariphrasis.

Pun: also known as paranomasia, but then you may already know that. A pun is a play on words capitalizing on similarity of spelling or pronunciation between words or on the multiple meanings of a single word. Falstaff's speeches are full of puns, as are children's joke books. It is strange how only the former contains humour. If I have two friends nicknamed Kat and they have an argument, you could pun and say there was a cat-fight (I recall having discussed this before, eh, Cait?).

Zeugma: a grammatical structure in which a word or phrase governs or is otherwise related to two different words of phrases, in a striking or suggestively different way. The Bedford gives these two examples: "He leaned on his lecturn and his stale jokes" and "They made cookies, plans, and love that night." How appropriate to the day after Valentine's. Sometimes this is called syllepsis when done correctly and zeugma only when erroneous. My own examples would be "He owned a copy of Warcraft III and his opponents" or "The South American country was full of red butterflies and propaganda" (where the propaganda is communist--get it, get it?).

That's all for now. I will analyze them more when I have time.

Hey, if Cait can write an essay on hugs, I can write an essay on this.



Jon Wong said...

I feel like I now have to write an essay on some sort of classification. Hmm... I'll get back to you on that one.

Cait said...

I like it. Extremely informative. And you're right. You right whatever the heck you want to write. :)

I liked my essay on hugs.

Christian H said...

No offense meant to your discussion on hugs, Cait.

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