Bill Long 12/20/04
Finally, a Really Simple Rhetorical Term
Ecphonesis can be defined as an "exclamation, an exclamatory phrase." The exclamation point is called the ecphoneme. Derived from two Greek words meaning "to call out," ecphonesis is a loud "calling out," to "express some sudden emotion, such as joy, sorrow, fear, wonder, indignation, anger or impatience." In this and the next three mini-essays I want to do three things with the term. First, I would like to introduce the religious use of ecphonesis, then reflect on ecphonesis and manuscript notations in general, and finally give four biblical examples of ecphonesis, in which I illustrate its use in expressing wonder, confusion, despair, judgment and finally, unremitting grief.
Ecphonesis In the Greek Church
The Century Dictionary got me going on this one. A secondary meaning of ecphonesis is "one of those parts of the service (in the Greek Church) which are said by the priest or officiant in an audible or elevated voice." Most of the service is said in a low or inaudible tone ("mystikos"--in "mystery" or "secret") but then some parts of it are said with voice raised ("ecphonos"). Normally this "ecphonos" is the conclusion of a prayer in which the priest raises his voice and invokes or blesses the Triune God or, in the case of the Lord's Prayer, when he lifts his voice and says, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever, AMEN." We might even coin a word here, ecphonic, and have it refer to someone's speech that (finally) is audible or comprehensible. "I am glad that you are finally speaking ecphonically." It would not connote that the person is in a highly agitated stated; it would emphasize the contrast between the lower voice previously and the raised voice now.
I have long been fascinated with the words associated with punctuation marks. For example, we all know what commas, parentheses and periods are. Most know what carats (not "what's up Doc?") and ampersands are . Fewer know that the question mark is really the erotema. Fewer still know that the "slash" or "/" is called the virgule. I got my first introduction to the legal effect of virgules when I was a litigation attorney. The question I had to study was the legal effect of a virgule between two names on a check, that is, whether the virgule in our jurisdiction functioned more as an "and" or an "or." Such a decision had implications for whether one or two parties had to sign a check in order for it to be valid. Now we are talking real money, and now lawyers are interested--because our clients were interested.
But those who plunge deeply into studying manuscripts discover quite quickly that there are tons of seemingly stray notations in margins or in the text that tell you something about pronunciation, pitch, tone, breathing, and the like. In a Greek manuscript these signs may be called ecphonic signs. The reason that ancient manuscripts have ecphonic signs is that vowels were sometimes dropped and words were not separated in the text.
I found a table of ecphonic signs online for the cantillation of Byzantine manuscripts. I don't want to go through all of them here, but there is a list (with illustrations, of course!) of fifteen of them. Several of them are just the singular and plural of the same, such as "Oxeia" (like the "virgule") which means that the voice should "rise and remain on a higher pitch until the end of the phrase." A double "Oxeia," called the "Oxeiae" suggests a higher pitch to the voice. Similarly, the "Bareia" and "Bareiae" means that the pitch should fall. The "Syrmatike" is a wave-like notation and indicates an undulating action of the voice. Now you know a full third of Byzantine manuscript notations! And, you thought you were only going to get a few words by way of explanation of exclamation! Maybe English would be improved if we were permitted to put in notations to the reader on how the text should be read. Agree?
Biblical Examples of Ecphonesis
Examples of ecphonesis, like love, are all around us. Wherever we see the telltale exclamation sign, we have ecphonesis. Yet some languages, like German, use it more liberally than English. For example, when I studied in Germany I was amazed (!) to see exclamation points after sentences or in the middle of lists where it didn't seem warranted! For example, a German scholarly book will give a bibliography after a section of text with the following notation: "Literatur!" I gradually began to see the ecphonema in a German text as equivalent to advice to "take note" in English.
Four biblical examples of ecphonesis came readily to mind when I started thinking about the phenomenon. I will list and discuss them one at a time, so that biblical expositors among my readers may have a ready "four point" presentation to give to their hearers.
1. The ecphonesis of judgment. When the people were reluctant to receive his message, Jesus compared his generation to easily-distracted children who played little games in the marketplace. Then his tone turned serious. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt. 11:21)." The ecphonesis of judgment is meant to bring the hearers up short; to make them reflect on their lives and change their course; to realize that time is brief and decisions have to be made.
The next page discusses another biblical use of ecphonesis.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long