A Word Break
Bill Long 2/12/08
After spending several days poring over the new words in Freerice.com levels 51-55, and then writing some essays on and learning about some endangered/threatened felines and canids, I needed a day just to work through words I found lying around here or there. In this essay I review three kinds of words: (1) select rhetorical terms; (2) four single-syllable verbs; (3) two dictionary entries beginning with "ch."
Some Rhetorical Terms--Polyptoton and Paregmenon
Rhetorical devices, though not the terms for them, are all around us. If, however, we learn the classical terms, we are better able to understand and appreciate these devices. Since these terms arose in the context of ancient Greek/Latin rhetoric, however, some of them only have meaning with inflected languages (different endings for different cases). The first, polyptoton, means "with many cases," and is a figure consisting in the use of different cases or inflections of the same word. Here is the most celebrated example, from theology:
"Mors mortis morti mortem nisi morte tulisset,
Aeternae vitae janua clausa foret."
Unless the death of death brought death to death by [Christ's] death, the door of eternal life would have been closed."
Now don't you want to learn Latin? The word for death is used in, respectively, the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and ablative cases. A remarkable sentence. Another significant classical use of polyptoton is:
"Quoniam ex ipso, et per ipsum, et in ipso sunt omnia, ipsi gloria in secula seculorum."
For from him and through him and in him are all things; glory to him for ever and ever.
A person's true rhetorical genius can only be demonstrated in the inflected languages because of the mastery of cases needed to complete the thought.
Closely related to polyptoton is paregmenon. Derived from the Greek verb paragein, the word means "to lead aside" or "change;" however, the para ("next to") seems to be behind the English definition: "A rhetorical technique by which a word is used immediately next to another word from which it is derived." From the Scripture: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise." Sometimes we have a double paregmenon. From 1657: "He wished rather to die a present death, than to live in the misery of life."
Antimetabole and Antimetathesis
The purpose of this paragraph is to show that even the dictionaries don't agree in differentiating some rhetorical devices. The former is also known as chiasmus, where the same words or ideas are repeated in reverse order. Examples are: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Or, "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." You can see the "chi" or "X-shaped" construction of the device. Actually it is a powerful way to express an idea succinctly. I seem to remember from Inherit the Wind a line spoken by the Fundamentalist Matthew Brady: "I am more interested in the rock of ages than the age of rocks." Here is a great page of examples.
Henry Peacham, who wrote one of the first rhetorical handbooks in English (1589), gave this example of antimetabole: "If Poesie be....A speaking picture to the eye: Then is a picture not denaid, to be a muet Poesie. But then, when we look at antimetathesis, which means "counterchange," no examples are given in the OED or in Burton's online Silva Rhetoricae, but the Century gives this example, "A poem is a speaking picture; a picture a mute poem." This seems almost identical to Peacham's example of antimetabole. Thus, I don't know if we really can distinguish between the two..
On Yowl, Chuff, Chirr and Chork
While studying and listening to some animal sounds, as recorded on the Net, I also realized that we have a whole vocabulary of colorful one syllable verbs to describe those unusual sounds. We know yowl, which means "to cry out loudly from pain, grief, or distress." Perhaps we can understand it best as a portmanteau word--a combination of howl and yelp, even though it goes back to the 13th century and is quite independent of those verbs in that context. Coverdale's 1535 translation of Ps. 59:14 is memorable: "Let them go to & from, & runne aboute the cite, youlinge like dogges."
The verb to chuff has reference to an engine or machine--"to work with a regularly repeated sharp puffing sound." DH Lawrence could write in 1914: "The driving engine chuffs rapidly." Or, in 1915, "The far-off windy chuff of a shunting train." Apparently he was the only one who used the verb in this way in the first decade of its existence.... Chirr, the OED tells us, is a "modern formation naturally expressing a prolonged and somewhat sharply trilled sound...with chirring as the more ponderous jarring. Specifically it means "to make the trilled sound characteristic of grasshoppers." It is almost equivalent to chirp, though it suggests a more continuous and monotonous sound than chirp. Finally, to chork is "to make the noise which the feet do when the shoes are full of water." From 1721: "Aft I wid through glens with chorking feet." Chark is an obsolete word meaning "to creak, as a wheel on its axle or a door on its hinges."
Finally, I ran across a few "ch" words in the OED which I can't resist mentioning. Chorizontes, taken from the Greek word meaning "those who are separated," originally was a name given to those grammarians who ascribed the Iliad and Odyssey to different authors. Thus, they "separated" at least one of them from Homer. The same word could be used to "separate" various Shakespeare plays from the Bard or Epistles attributed to Paul in the NT from the Apostle. Then, there is chorology, a word that disappeared because we have two others to take its place. It originally (1879) meant "the scientific study of the geographical extent or limit of anything." The "chorology" of organisms, then, was the geographical and topographical distribution of the various species. But with geographical and topographical, you really don't need chorological, and so it courteously bowed out of the language.
That's enough for one more day...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long