On Other Stylistic Vices I
Bill Long 3/23/08
Donatus' List and Then Isidore's
In his Ars maior, the 5th century grammarian Aelius Donatus first considers barbarisms before moving to what he calls "de ceteriis vitiis," or "on other errors." Isidore's treatment of barbarisms is in I.32 of his Eytmologies, while his consideration of "other errors" or "faults" is in I.34. Donatus lists 12 of these faults, which include two categories (barbarism and solecism) that merit special treatment. These twelve are: (1) barbarism; (2) solecism; (3) acyrologia/acyrology; (4) cacemphaton; (5) pleonasm; (6) perissology; (7) macrology; (8) tautology; (9) ellipse/eclipse [remember, the Latins wanted to avoid labdacismus; (10) tapinosis; (11) cacosyntheton; (12) amphiboly. We see a little of the artificiality of this list, since (1) and (2) receive separate treatment both by Donatus and Isidore, and (11) is introduced by Donatus in his treatment of barbarism. Yet, the effort at systematization in human affairs always seems to leave arms and legs sticking out of the bed, so to speak, to be lopped off by those who wield the Procrustean axe of system-building, but more tolerated by those of us who know that human affairs almost always resist easy categorizations. By the way, Isidore's list is identical, though his examples are sometimes different from Donatus. He even uses one derived from the Bible.
Looking More Closely at the "Other Faults"
We have already met "barbarism," which is a vice in speech or writing which lengthens, shortens, substitutes letters for or transposes letters in such a way to alter tone, accent, aspiration (breathing), etc. Since "solecism" will also receive separate treatment, Donatus plunges right into acyrology. By the way, Isidore differentiates barbarism and solecism in the following way-- the former has to do with a fault in a single word, the latter refers to faulty construction of words. I think I am perceiving the slightest whiff of someone's trying to separate concepts and words which probably overlapped a good deal at one time--overlapped because the words developed independently of each other for a long time. Let's look at the 9 or 10 in the list above that need or invite consideration.
1. Acyrology is "speech which does not fit together." Lying behind it are three Greek words: the alpha private, kuros, which means "authority," and logos, meaning "speech." That is, acyrology is speech for which there is no authority or is incorrect. It really is a most general term, under which many faults could gather. Donatus gives the example from the Aeneid 4.419:
"hunc ego si potui tantum sperare dolorem,"
or, "if I have been able to hope for so much grief." Isidore's is similar (from Lucan's Civil War 2.15): "Let the fearful one hope." People in grief don't hope; fearful people don't hope. That is the fault of acyrology, according to the ancients. You wonder, however, if contrary language might be used sometimes to establish irony or shock the reader. In his online Silva Rhetoricae, Professor Burton uses two examples of incorrect words which he calls acyrology (one of which is a dog saying, in a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, "I'm going to get tutored!" instead of "neutered"). In this way acyrology fades into malapropism or other types of plays on words--paronomasia. So, acyrology is really a quite general term for inappropriate connecting of words.
2. Cacemphaton is "a vulgar utterance either in connected discourse or in one word." It is derived from the Greek words "evil speech" and it generally refers to suggestive words that are proper in a context but connote what we would call "double entendres," especially of a sexual nature. In America in 2008, then, this may be no vice! One example given by Donatus is the following. From Terence:
"Arrige aures Pamphile"
which translates as "prick up your ears, Pamphilus." Isidore uses another example with the verb arrigere:
"His animum arrecti dictis" (Aeneid 1.579)
which can be rendered "Aroused in their hearts by these words." Arrigere therefore means "to arouse," with both a sexual and non-sexual connotation. The Latins considered it a fault to use words that might have a secondary sexual connotation. Cacemphaton refers not simply to "obscene" but also to "disorderly" speech, according to Isidore, and so he gives the example from Aeneid 2.27:
"Iuvat ire et Dorica castra"
"and it is a pleasure to go to the Doric camps." This is "disorderly" though not "vulgar" because it "is poor composition to begin with the same syllable with which the preceding word has ended"--the double "e," between "ire" and "et." Again, this seems to be a general term.
3. Pleonasm is, according to Donatus, "the addition of words useless for full meaning," while Isidore defines it as "the superfluous addition of a single word." Donatus' example, from Aeneid 1.614, is:
"sic ore locuta est,"
or "thus he spoke with his mouth." With what other orifice is one supposed to have spoken? Thus, use of the word ore is a pleonasm. Isidore also gives an example from Virgil, but this time from the Georgics (2.1), which I will only give in English:
"So far, the cultivation of fields and the stars of the sky.."
Where else would the stars be? It is interesting to me that these textbook examples of grammatical faults are taken from the best exemplars of Latin writing. Would we do the same in citing faults from Shakespeare or Milton? Or, do we have the same notion of "fault" in our written/spoken communication? I don't know, but the study of the ancients truly helps pose the question well, as well as give us all kinds of terms that are helpful to know but of which we were, no doubt, ignorant.
4. Donatus defines perissologia as "the useless addition of words without any referent," while Isidore, always trying to "improve" and systematize his sources, defines it as the "superfluous addition of several words" (recall that pleonasm, for him, meant the addition of one unnecessary word). Donatus' example is:
"Ibant qua poterant, qua non poterant non ibant,"
or, "they went where they were able and where they were not able, there they did not go." Is Donatus complaining because the author just speaks generally, thus with no specific referent, or because there are too many words? He isn't clear. The Greek word perissos, which stands behind the vice, means "redundant." Thus, it means, as the OED tells us, "use of more words than are necessary; redundancy or superfluity of expression; pleonasm..."
Now we see the "bind" that Isidore was in. Donatus was his source and therefore he probably would not want to deviate much from him him, and so he, like Donatus, differentiated pleonasm from perissology. But, in fact, they really don't mean different things--and Donatus' definitions don't help us differentiate the words. Thus, Isidore, systematic Catholic Bishop that he is, has to try to come up with a difference between the words. Since his example of pleonasm only adds one Latin word but his example of perissology adds several, we have a solution to our dilemma. But here is where Isidore is further interesting: he gives his first Biblical example of a fault (can the Bible be faulted?):
"Let Reuben live, and not die" (Deut. 33:6).
Isidore doesn't say that this is more than one word in Hebrew (it is two); he is concerned with the Latin language--which is three words. Hence, an example of perissology.
I need one more essay to finish the "other faults."
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long