Saturday 27 June 2009

Figures of Speech

The Ancient Greeks were heavily into rhetoric. It was all about making people think and feel and believe what was useful – we call it marketing. They turned it into a science, breaking persuasion down into its constituent parts and codifying them as anacoluthon, hyperbaton etc. You might think that was all soooo 2,500 years ago, but we use those figures of speech every day. Well, maybe not all at once.

This is where you you refer to the whole of something when you just mean a part of it, or vice versa. Whole for part, part for whole is a shorter way of putting it. He was a famous face (the whole of him was famous). It you can mention the container when you mean the thing contained – Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction (it was her clothes that went AWOL). The speaker addressed a packed hall (he was addressing the people in it). The kettle’s boiled! (It was the water that boiled.) You can also refer to the thing contained when you mean the container (pass the milk). Synechdoche, New York is a film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Separating the parts of a compound word, according to Webster, as in "abso-bl**dy-lutely", la-di-perishin’-da, Leonardo da bl***dy Vinci). Used a lot in In the Loop

An implied or indirect reference (Another Place for the House of Lords, the Other Place for Hell, Across the Pond for the U.S., the Man Above for God, Over There for the war in Europe (WWI)).

What would the English do without understatement? When people are yelling and screaming and running round in circles you ask: “What’s all the fuss about?” If a friend is severely ill you say he’s “feeling a little sorry for himself.” You refer to World War I as “the late unpleasantness”. The retreat from Dunkirk was “no picnic”. If you’re surrounded by utter disaster you say “conditions are suboptimal”.

A rhetorical figure in which the speaker emphasizes something by affecting to pass it by without notice, usually by such phrases as ‘not to mention’, ‘to say nothing of’.

It goes without saying...

Not to mention...

I needn’t tell you...

Needs no introduction...

Let others speak of...

...but I’m not going to go into all that now.

To say nothing of what you did when...

If you perpetrate amphiboly, you make a statement that can be read two ways, or even three. Do dogs have worries? Or should we worry about them?

Dogs Found Worrying Will Be Shot

Bishop Lifting Service

Brake and Clutch Parts

Caution: Do not run on the stairs. Use the handrail.

Dogs Must Be Carried


Elephants Please Stay Inside Your Car

Fish and Chips Left at Lights

Flying Insect Killer

Help save the world from your desktop!

Incest More Common than Thought in U.S.

Insert finger under flap and move from side to side

Knight Rentals

Man Not Responsible for Global Warming

Monster Man Eating Shark

Pedestrians Look Right

Save soap and waste paper

Slow children crossing

The Society for Visiting Scientists

Toilet Out of Order, Please Use Floor Below

Wildlife Drive Slowly at Night

Boring Machine Ahead

Sheep, please keep dogs under control

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HYPERBATON – backwards ran the sentences...
Hyperbaton is a "figure of speech in which the customary or logical order of words or phrases is inverted, especially for the sake of emphasis". For example, they used to say of Time magazine: "Backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind." The film Philadelphia Story may have been guying this when the Cary Grant character says: "No mean Machiavelli is smiling, cynical Sidney Kidd."

According to the Time archive: “[Briton] Hadden [a founding editor] ... encouraged backward-running sentences ("A ghastly ghoul prowled around a cemetery not far from Paris. Into family chapels went he, robbery of the dead intent upon").” Time Archive) A letter to the magazine caught the habit: "Of primary importance is making the problem visible."

It used to be common in military usage: beds, army, two tier, soldiers, for the use of; Clutches, motor-cycles, soldiers for the use of

This can easily be parodied in other contexts: Soup, nourishing, the poor, for the use of.

HYPERBOLE – exaggeration, overstatement, catastrophising

If we relax the divorce laws it will lead to anarchy!

Political correctness has destroyed society!

Young people have become feral!

This 13-year-old father shows that we have lost all sense of right and wrong!

"This is Stalinism, practically!" David Hockney on the smoking ban (Times May 9 2009)

When the head of a theological college removed one prayer from a rite, protesters asked: “Why do you want to destroy the prayerbook?”

“Full normalization of homosexuality would eventually mean the end to all morals legislation of any kind." Albert Mohler, quoted in Time Nov 08

"the progressive intelligentsia ... have simply written orderly, married, normative family life out of the script, enforced the doctrines of multiculturalism and nonjudgmentalism with the zealotry of the fanatic, and caused Britain to descend into an age of barbarism." Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail

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