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.

Wednesday Writing Word: Anadiplosis

Anadiplosis

/ˌænədɪˈploʊsɪs/  |  AN-uh-dih-PLO-sis

 

Anadiplosis is the repetition of a clause or sentence’s final word(s) at the beginning of the clause or sentence that follows it.  Often strung together to emphasize a linear progression (think Yoda’s mantra, “Fear leads to angerAnger leads to hateHate leads to suffering.”).  With a little reflexivity, it can also set up chiasmus or antimetabole.

 

Other examples:

  • I hate the slog; the slog is awful.  Awful things are no goodgood things are much better.
  • He entered the house, and the house had many rooms, but the rooms were full of boxes, the boxes were stuffed with notes, the notes contained a warning, and that warning read “Beware the slog.”

 

Anadiplosis.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Metonym

Metonym

/ˈmɛtənɪm/  |  MET-uh-nim

 

Metonymy is the metaphorical referral to something by the name of something closely related to it.  Typically used for poetic symbolism, it’s more often seen in established examples than it is in unique cases.  For my fellow Game of Thrones fans, “The Iron Throne” is an often-used metonym for the rulership of Westeros.

 

Other examples:

  • The slog can drive a writer to the bottle.  [Referring to drinking alcoholic beverages]
  • Lo slog, das slogel slog – in any tongue the slog is still the slog.  [Referring to a language]

 

Metonymy.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.
 


 

(Want to win a free signed copy of The Amber Ring? Check the link for details. Only a few days left, and no entrants yet, so your odds are sitting at 100%!)

 

Wednesday Writing Word: Chiasmus

Chiasmus

/kaɪˈæzməs/  |  kye-AZ-muss

 

This is a fun one. Chiasmus occurs when parallel phrases/clauses are syntactically or semantically inverted.  It can be as simple as reversing parts of speech (such as the order of a verb and its adverb), or it can set up statements with poetic symmetry.  Probably better explained by showing than telling.

 

Examples:

  • I hate that the slog exists, and what it does I despise.
  • I wish that the slog would suddenly disappear and die horribly.
  • From a muse you get inspiration; you only get inhibition from the slog.
  • The slog is stupid like a rock, but like a boulder it can crush you.

 

Chiasmus.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.
 


 

(Want to win a free signed copy of The Amber Ring?  Check the link for details.  No entrants yet, so the odds are sitting at 100%!)

 

Wednesday Writing Word: Metanoia

Metanoia

ˌmɛtəˈnɔɪə  |  met-uh-NOY-uh

 

Metanoia, as a rhetoric device, is following up a statement with another of similar sentiment but contrasting severity.  When strengthening the original idea, it can be used as a clarifier or an escalating gradient; when softening it, it can create a mild recanting or a dramatic understatement.

 

Examples:

  • I fear that the slog is going to hinder me – that it’s going to smoother my brain, dull my senses, and rip the joy out of everything I do.
  • The slog is the absolute worst.  It’s just…really not my favorite thing, you know?

 

Metanoia.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Epanalepsis

Epanalepsis

/ˌɛpənəˈlɛpsɪs/  |  EP-ah-nuh-LEP-sis

 

Epanalepsis is the repetition of a sentence’s (or occasionally clause’s) first word or phrase at its end.  Used for a particular sort of poetic emphasis, it can sound pretty awkward if not done carefully.

 

Examples:

  • Wretched is the slog, for its intentions are wretched.
  • You must be wary of the slog‘s embrace; it is cruel yet inviting, and of its allure you must be wary.

 

Epanalepsis.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Polyseme

Polyseme

/ˈpɒliˌsim/  |  PAUL-ee-seem

 

Polysemy is the semantic relation among identical words of affiliated or derived meaning.   A polyseme can be as simple as a word with multiple similar contexts (mattress pad / paw pad / mouse pad), but they are more interesting and useful when they cross part-of-speech borders.  If we say “He will bat the bat with a bat,” bat (swat) and bat (baseball) are polysemes, whereas they are merely homonyms with bat (animal).

 

Other examples:

 

Polysemy.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Anaphora

Anaphora

/əˈnæfərə/  |  uh-NAFF-or-uh

 

Anaphora means…two separate things.  Because why not coin long, obscure words for extremely specific purposes only to use them again for something completely different?  O.K., O.K., the etymology (Greek, ~”bringing back”) does lend itself toward both definitions, but still.

The first refers to using a word to stand in for something that came before it.  Typically, this just means your average pronoun-antecedent reference, but it can also apply to certain auxiliary verbs.

 

Examples:

  • I hate the slog because it is the worst.
  • I want to annihilate the slog; so does Billy.

 

The second (and more fun) anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple sequential sentences or clauses.  Used as emphatic redundancy.

 

Examples:

  • We are here to make a statement.  We are here to take a stand.  We are here to face the slog.
  • I don’t like the slog, I don’t like that it exists, and I don’t like that it doesn’t not exist.

 

(…technically, there’s also a third definition, but it isn’t related to linguistics, so it can just…not…be here)

 

Anaphora.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

A police cop

“Police police police police police police police.”
– Police

 

Oh, homonyms and homophones.  They let us construct statements such as the above (which, while a ridiculous thing to say, is a perfectly valid English sentence that could be rephrased as “Cops that are regulated by other officers regulate cops that are also regulated by other officers.”).  If you want some extra-specific vocabulary, the noun ‘police’ and the verb ‘police’ are polysemes.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find something inherently humorous about legitimately using the same word (and to a lesser extent, letter) too many times in a row.  You can almost feel the language glaring hatefully at you, like a cop (that may or may not be regulated by other cops) watching a criminal get away on a technicality.

One popular example used to demonstrate the importance of punctuation goes something like “John while I had had had had had had had had had had had proper grammatical structure.”  When we add some orthographic organization, this string of madness actually makes sense – “John, while I had had ‘had’, had had ‘had had’; ‘had had’ had had proper grammatical structure.”

Perhaps the craziest exercise in homophony, however, is the Chinese ‘poem’/riddle by linguist Yuen Ren Chao entitled 施氏食獅史 (usually called “Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den” in English).

In its written form, it’s understandable enough (if you know Chinese, anyway):

石室詩士施氏,嗜獅,誓食十獅。
氏時時適市視獅。
十時,適十獅適市。
是時,適施氏適市。
氏視是十獅,恃矢勢,使是十獅逝世。
氏拾是十獅屍,適石室。
石室濕,氏使侍拭石室。
石室拭,氏始試食是十獅。
食時,始識是十獅屍,實十石獅屍。
試釋是事。

 

It translates to something like:

In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

 

But, when read aloud in (or transliterated from) Mandarin, it becomes practically incomprehensible:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

 

It’s not perfectly homophonic because of tonal distinctions, but still.  (>^-‘)>  There’s a bit more variation when spoken in the other dialects that use the Chinese ideography (like Cantonese or Taiwanese), but either way, it’s really only followable in writing.

 

Languages are generally engineered to be as clear as possible, and where they fall short of that goal is something a writer should keep in mind – plus, abusing those problem areas can produce some entertaining results!

 

Bene scribete.