On Other Stylistic Vices II
Bill Long 3/23/08
From Macrology to Amphiboly
5. Now we have macrology, which is "a long sentence containing unnecessary things." Makros is the Greek word for "long" or "large." Isidore defines it similarly: "Speaking at length, and including unnecessary matters." Donatus' example is repeated by Isidore:
"Legati non inpetrata pace retro, unde venerant, domum reversi sunt," (Livy, cited in Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory 8.3.53).
This can be translated: "The legates, not having achieved peace, returned back hom whence they had come." Here are two instances of superfluous terms--the use of "retro" and "reversi" both say the same thing, and the "whence they came." It would have been sufficient had the author just said that they returned home. Burton gives the example of Polonius' speech from Hamlet II.2.86-94. We really are hard-pressed, however, to come up with helpful distinctions among pleonasm, perissology and macrology. But it may be good to have a variety of words at the ready to expose the pretentions of those who run on at the mouth.
6. Tautologia/tautology is the faulty repetition of a phrase, such as "me, myself and I." Isidore, however, gives a classic reference (Aeneid 1.546):
"If the fates preserve the man, if he is nourished by the etherial air, and does not yet recline in the cruel shades..."
Thus, tautology differs from the previous three in that here there is not simply longwindedness but a certain kind of it--repetition of thoughts. But, if you think about this for a moment, you conclude that this often isn't much of a grammatical vice. After all, most great literature, many great speeches, and all good teaching is based on repetition. Let me be clear: most great literature, many great speeches, and all good teaching is based on repetition. I was just memorizing from Book I of Milton's Paradise Lost the following lines this morning:
"No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd only to discover new sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all..," I.63-67.
"Sights of woe, regions of sorrow" and "doleful shades" say all pretty much the same thing, as do "rest can never dwell" and "hope never comes." But rather than this being a stylistic fault in Milton, it actually serves to create an eerie feeling, a sense of abject hopelessness. Well, was this in fact a vice in Latin speech or were the medieval teachers simply repeating what their predecessors had written without being aware of the rhetorical power of repetition and, at times, long-windedness? Well, maybe in literature it is acceptable, but John Wesley certainly has a point when he said, near the end of his life: "That villanous tautology of lawyers, which is the scandal of our nation..."
7. Eclipse or ellipsis is the "lack of some needed phrase, which the sentence is missing." Isidore agrees. We have haec secum ("this to herself") while the "she said" is lacking. Or, from Isidore, we have "Whose quiver out of gold," with the verb "is" was lacking. Burton gives the modern example, "John forgives Mary and Mary, John," where the verb "forgive" is elided. Not so much of a fault, but simply a way of shortening our speech for rhetorical effect.
8. Tapinosis is one that brings smiles to my face, because of the example given by Isidore. It is derived from the Greek word for "lowering" or "humbling," and means, according to Donatus, "weakening (belittling) of a great thing by a statement which is ineffective or does not measure up." Isidore calls it the "lowering, reducing the state of a great subject by words..." The examples given by Donatus are discarded by Isidore; let's see why. First he cites Aeneid 2.19, where the Trojan soldiers are setting up in the belly of the horse. The Latin is:
"penitusque cavernas ingentes uterumque armato milite complent,"
or "deep in the paunch fill the huge cavern with armed soldiery." He also gives:
"Dulichias vexasse rates,"
which means "harried the Ithacan barks" (Eclogues 6.76). So, the reference to the huge Trojan horse as a "paunch" offended someone and became picked up as an example of tapinosis. But Isidore doesn't like this example, and so he gives another, also from the Aeneid (1.118):
"Here and there men appear, swimming in the vast whirlpool."
The word "whirlpool" (gurges) is used instead of ocean (mare). So, we now know tapinosis, but who is to say whether it might not be an advantage to use it at times?
9. Cacosyntheton can be treated quickly, because I already commented on it in my barbarism essays. It is "faulty composition of sentences." Both Donatus and Isidore treat it very briefly, using the same example from the Aeneid (9.609), which really doesn't show much of a fault, except that the noun and the adjective modifying it might be placed closer together.
10. We conclude our treatment with mention of amphiboly or ambiguity. I have written clearly and at length on ambiguity and so i don't need to write at length here. Indeed, I am conscious of Donatus' final words in the section on faults: "It (amphiboly) also comes about in many other ways which we do not need to go through, lest things become too boring." I am afraid that I may already have violated the "Donatan rule," but I will press on. Various kinds of amphiboly are: (1) through the accusative case, as if someone said:
"Audio secutorem retiarium superasse,"
which may either be translated "I hear shield man conquered net-man" or "I hear net man conquered shield man" (a not inconsiderable difference, you might note, especially if your loved one is a net man). (2) Another type of Latin grammatical ambiguity/amphiboly concerns the use of deponent verbs. The sentence criminatur Cato can mean "Cato stands accused" or "Cato accuses." The sentence vadatur Tullius, likewise, can mean "Cicero is hauled into court" or "Cicero hauls into court." Ambiguity can also come about through homonymy (same word to denote different things), where the word aciem ("point") is used alone, and the author doesn't add "of the eye" or "of the squadron."
Isidore gives some of these examples, but then adds one more, from Ennius (Annals 179):
"Aio te, Aecida, Romanos vincere posse,"
which is also an example of the accusative case situation, noted by Donatus, but can be translated: "I say that you, son of Aeacus, can conquer the Romans," or, "I say, son of Aeacus, that the Romans can conquer you." Sort of important to sort out the meaning, don't you think?
I think this last fault is a most important one, stalking the small and great alike in our writing and speaking today. Sometimes, it is intentionally so used, perhaps even for effect, but most of the times it ought to be religiously avoided.
Now we are ready to consider metaplasms...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long