Bill Long 10/04/04
Lopping Off, Lengthening, Smushing Together
Thus, we have six of Donatus' fourteen terms down pat. It is not bad for a day's work. If the whole world learned six new words a day, I think it would contribute to world peace (if for no other reason that the person would have to be studying rather than killing someone else). Let's rush ahead to the other eight, and then we will find others that really confuse us.
Lengthening and Shortening
Donatus' words seven and eight refer to lengthening and shortening vowels. We really don't have this situation much in English, so I can pass over it quickly. Lengthening a vowel (like making the "I" in "Italiam" long rather than short) was called ectasis (don't confuse it with ecstasy, a much more mind-altering state), and was also known as diastole ("to place asunder"). The opposite is called systole ("to place together") and consists of shortening a long vowel for rhythmic purposes. Phew, we now have eight.
A Few Other Stray Metaplasms
Donatus then contrasts two other metaplasms: diaresis and episynaloephe. Ok. Here is where it starts getting tough. You can spell these words about two or three different ways in English. For example, the latter can be spelled "episynaloephe" or "episynalaephe" or "episynalaepha" or "episynaloepha." But let's try to leave aside the spelling problem; just pick one that is consistent with your other choices of spelling variants for other rhetorical terms (easier said than done).
Well, to their meaning. Diaresis (aka diaeresis) is ultimately derived from the word from which we get "heresy" in English. A "heresy" is a division, and so diaresis is a division within the word, where one syllable is "divided" into two. I think it is best not to teach the word diaresis to high schoolers lest they confuse it with a bodily function that is often on the mind of middle and high-schoolers. Maybe some day I will explore the flow of terms relating to diarrhea (there is a rich collection of medical terms relating to getting things flowing again--such as deobstruent and ecphractic and deoppilitive and aperient), but I am having too much fun with rhetorical terms at the moment to descend into the argot of medspeak.
Here is where some confusion arises, for one example I gave for epenthesis (lengthening of mediaevil into three syllables) is precisely the example given by Professor Burton in his online rhetoric for diaeresis (as he spells the word). So, are they the same thing? Well, not really. Epenthesis emphasizes the addition of a sound or letter in the middle while diaresis is the division of one sound into two without adding letters. Not only splitting vowels here, but also seemingly splitting hairs.
Episynaloephe, however, is the "gathering" of two syllables into one. The synaloephe part of it means to blend into one, and is colorfully derived from the Greek words for "with"-- "syn"--and "anoint" --"aleiphein." To anoint something is to wash it with oil, to blend it with something, to coalesce, or, in my eloquent word at the top of this page, to "smush" (or is it "smoosh"?). One of the examples Donatus gives of this is Phaethon, the young charioteer who unsuccessfully took over for his father Helios. In Greek there are "two dots" over the "e", meaning that the word is pronounced with three syllables. Episynaloephe would eliminate the "dots," thus making the name a two-syllable word. Up to 10 now.
Substitution/Transposition of Letters
Let's conclude this mini-essay (yes, I will need one more) by looking at two more of Donatus' 14: antithesis and metathesis. Metathesis is a "carrying of a letter to another place," and the example Donatus gives is the changing of Evander's name to "Evandre." In the 1990s in English we had all kinds of spellings where "center" was spelled "centre" and "park" was spelled "parque," though I suppose the latter is not techically a metathesis. My experience was that people changed spelling on a word to a more "elegant" spelling and then charged you $20 more for their trouble. You could go into the "centre" cafe now and, instead of paying $1.50 for coffee, it would cost you $2.00. I was greatly relieved to discover that this device was not simply a modern one, but had deep ancient roots. That way, when I was getting ripped off, at least I was having the privilege of having it done in a very traditional manner.
Then there is what Donatus calls antithesis: the "substitution of a letter for a letter." What he means by this is given in the example of spelling "alli" as "olli." Donatus may have made a mistake in so denominating this device antithesis, because antithesis is normally defined as the juxtaposing or placing side by side of contrary concepts. The word that is now used for the "substitution of a letter for a letter" is antithescon, but it would be an interesting study someday to discover how the former morphed into the latter. The word antithesis may just be more general: a "placing against," while antithescon suggests, by its derivation from the Greek word for "basic element" (stoicheia--also a significant philosophical term in Greek), the setting of "basic elements"--i.e., a letter, against a letter. But this is the device of substitution, and often results in a kind of pun, or paranomasia. But we are getting too far afield now, so let's finish with Donatus' final two words and the confusion that erupts from them.
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