Wednesday Writing Word: Zeugma

Zeugma

/ˈzugmə/  |  ZOOG-muh

 

Zeugma is a fun little device that occurs when a word is used in multiple contexts simultaneously – i.e., to mean two (or sometimes more) things at once as it applies separately to the other words in its purview.  Mostly used for humorous brevity, it naturally requires that the word have some homonymous or polysemic properties.

 

Examples:

  • Billy ran from the slog and for mayor.
  • The minstrel plays the flute almost as well as he does the fool.
  • I punched the slog with fury, indignation, and my fist.
  • I like chips in my cookies, not my teeth.

 

Bene scribete.

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Wednesday Writing Word: Epistrophe

Epistrophe

/ɛˈpɪstrəfi/  |  eh-PISS-truh-fee

 

Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of consecutive sentences or clauses (basically the converse of anaphora).  Like its counterpart, it is mostly used for emphasis through poetic redundancy.

 

Examples:

  • The slog is the worst, its face is the worst, and its mere existence is the worst.
  • Stop writing, and you lose.  Stop editing, and they lose.  Humor the slog, and we all lose.
  • I’d slay the slog with pleasure, then dump its remains with pleasure, so I could finally write – with pleasure!

 

Epistrophe.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Antimeria

Antimeria

/,æntɨ’mɛriə/  |  AN-tih-MAIR-ee-uh

 

Antimeria is one of my favorite rhetoric devices.  It is the application of a word outside of its lexical category – e.g., using an adjective as a noun or a noun as a verb (in this case also autologically called ‘verbing’!).  Even with the words repurposed ad hoc, the missing semantics are filled in by context and their meaning is easily understood.

When particular uses become common enough, polysemes are born.

 

Examples:

  • The slog is giving me a case of the sads.
  • I can’t computer very much with the slog gnawing at my brain.
  • Thanks to the slog, I feel like I’m stupiding all over the place.

 

Antimeria.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Literally?

Confused man

 

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook concerning the use of the word ‘literally’ in the increasingly popular figurative sense.  The article unfortunately seems to have disappeared at the moment, but the gist of it was pointing out that most dictionaries have now appended this alternate meaning to the word’s definition, and explaining that this usage may have originated with, or was at least first recorded in, Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague (published in 1769).

Naturally, this sparked a conversation on whether or not this sort of language development is acceptable.  Prior to encountering this, I had no idea there was even a movement to gain legitimacy for this non-literal use of ‘literally’, as it’s kind of the butt of diction jokes everywhere, but there are apparently many who feel that rejecting it (or any other semantic shift) amounts to needless linguistic authoritarianism.

My own take on the matter was as such:

The evolution of language and words is a natural, inevitable thing, and in the general case it is something to be embraced.  That said, stability is a necessity of language’s functionality, thus any given modification cannot be assumed to possess intrinsic merit.

Language is a tool of communication, of which clarity is an important aspect, and I should assert that preserving its ability to convey meaning is a not an unworthy goal, particularly in an instance such as this wherein the suggested secondary interpretation of a term, when used in the same context, implies something strictly antithetical to what the accepted definition would.  This dilution of precision, while admittedly neither entirely untenable nor without precedent, is nevertheless customarily unfavorable.

(That the word was used in this sense a few centuries ago scarcely argues its virtue – words have been used improperly since words were first words, and most such misuses do not incur a change in their respective societal perceptions!)

But, I’ll concede to being guilty of a little linguistic snobbery.  People will say what they will, and language will be thus, regardless of what may or may not be in its own best interest.  (>^-‘)>

 

I’m curious to hear where others lie on the issue, though.  Any thoughts to add?

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Merism

Merism

/’mɛrɪzəm/  |  MAIR-iz-mm

 

Where a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym, a merism is a specific type of synecdoche in which a phrase refers to something by the name of a few of its components (usually two in contrast).  Like other metonyms, their usage most often comprises pre-established terms (such as saying “high and low” or “near and far” to mean “everywhere“), rather than existing in unique cases.

 

Other examples:

  • The slog can corrode you, mind and body.  [Referring to the ‘whole of a person’ to mean completely]
  • Don’t let the slog waste your blood, sweat, and tears.  [Referring to products of ‘bodily exertion’ to mean hard work]
  • Being the worst is the slog‘s bread and butter.  [Referring to ‘basic needs’ (by way of food) as a function of their acquisition to mean manner of supporting oneself]

 

Merism.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Tautology

Tautology

/tɔˈtɒlədʒi/  |  taw-TAW-luh-jee

 

Tautology is a multifaceted concept.  In most cases, it refers to something contextually uninformative.  This can be as simple as a redundant word or phrase (“He burnt his hand in hot fire.”, “Julie the bachelorette arrived last, without a husband.”), but in what I’d call its most interesting form, a tautology is an entire assertion that is rendered intrinsically meaningless strictly because it is inherently true.

With so many ways to convey information in language, there is just something I find almost artfully ridiculous in the construction of a syntactically and semantically sound statement which nevertheless effectively communicates nothing under any interpretation.

 

Examples:

  • The stupid things that the slog does are all stupid.
  • The slog is precisely as terrible as it is.
  • Either I’ll defeat the slog, or I won’t.

 

Tautology.  (Don’t?) use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Synecdoche

Synecdoche

/sɪˈnɛkdəki/  |  sih-NECK-duh-kee

 

Aside from being an uglier word to say than look at, a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym where something is referred to by either a component of itself or, conversely, a broader category to which it belongs.  When I call myself a writer, I’m naming one aspect of the process to say that I’m a storyteller.

 

Other examples:

  • I need to find a way to put the slog in irons.  [Referring to shackles by their material]
  • Seeking to escape the slog, we entreated the Church to grant us asylum.  [Referring to specific people by the organization they belong to, and that organization by the building it works in]

 

Synecdoche.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.