catachresis to distinctio

catachresis | categoria | chiasmus | chreia | Ciceronian | circumlocution | cliche | climax | commonplace | commoratio | complex sentence | compound sentence | concession | confirmation | connotation | copia | crot | decorum | deduction | dehortatio | diacope | dialectic | distinctio


catachresis –(Pronunciation “cat a KREE sis”)  An extreme, far-fetched metaphor; strained or deliberately paradoxical figure of speech; deliberate substitution of an inexact word in place of the correct one. [Gk. “misapplication”]

“To take arms against a sea of troubles.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet)

“Red trains cough Jewish underwear for keeps! Expanding smells of silence.
Gravy snot whistling like sea birds.” (Amiri Baraka, “The Dutchman”)

“The moon was full. The moon was so bloated it was about to tip over.
Imagine awakening to find the moon flat on its face on the bathroom floor,
like the late Elvis Presley, poisoned by banana splits. It was a moon that
could stir wild passions in a moo cow. A moon that could bring out the devil
in a bunny rabbit. A moon that could turn lug nuts into moonstones, turn
little Red Riding Hood into the big bad wolf.” (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker)


categoria — Direct exposure of an adversary’s faults. [Gk. “accusation”]

“The average American judge, as everyone knows, is a mere rabbinical
automation, with no more give and take in his mind than you will find in the
mind of a terrier watching a rathole.” (H. L. Mencken, “Mr. Justice Holmes”)


chiasmus (Pronunciation: “KEE as mus” … derived from Greek letter “X”)– A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed. (Similar to antimetabole, chiasmus also involves a reversal of structures in successive phrases or clauses.)

“I flee who chases me, and chases who flees me.” (Ovid)

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” (Shakespeare, Macbeth I.i)

“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not
original, and the part that is original is not good.”(Samuel Johnson)

“If black men have no rights in the eyes of the white men, of course the
whites can have none in the eyes of the blacks.”
(Frederick Douglass, “An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage”)

“The question isn’t whether Grape Nuts are good enough for you; it’s whether
you are good enough for Grape Nuts.” (advertisement)

“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change
amid order.” (Alfred North Whitehead)

“I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
(Winston Churchill)

“The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that
children produce adults.” (Peter De Vries)

“Don’t sweat the petty things–and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

“Never let a fool kiss you–or a kiss fool you.” (anonymous)


chreia (Pronounced “CRAY-yuh”) — An elementary exercise, or progymnasmata, in which the rhetor elaborates on a famous event or saying.


Ciceronian — In the style of Cicero–thus, dignified, balanced, melodious, well ordered,and clear. Often marked by periodic sentences and ornaments. Contrast with Senecan.

“Advice is offensive, not because it lays us open to unexpected regret, or
convicts us of any fault which had escaped our notice, but because it shows
us that we are known to others as well as to our selves; and the officious
monitor is persecuted with hatred, not because his accusation is false, but
because he assumes that superiority which we are not willing to grant him,
and has dared to detect what we desired to conceal.”
(Samuel Johnson, “The Usefulness of Advice”)


circumlocutionFigure wherein a rhetor avoids naming an unpopular or unfavorable issue or term. [L. “speaking around”]

“Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast’red importunity.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.3.31-32)


cliche — A trite expression–often a figure of speech whose effectiveness has been
worn out through overuse and excessive familiarity. [Fr. “a stereotype plate”]

“That’s the way with these directors, they’re always biting the hand that
lays the golden egg.” (Samuel Goldwyn)

“Live and learn.”

“What goes around comes around.”


climax — Mounting by degrees through words or sentences of increasing weight and in parallel construction. [Gk. “ladder”]

“I came, I saw, I conquered.” (Julius Caesar)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (St.John Chapter 14, verse 4)

“Nothing has been left undone to cripple their minds, debase their moral
stature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind.”
(Lloyd Garrison, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave)

“Out of its vivid disorder comes order; from its rank smell rises the good
aroma of courage and daring; out of its preliminary shabbiness comes the
final splendor. And buried in the familiar boasts of its advance agents lies
the modesty of most of its people.”
(E. B. White, “The Ring of Time”-describing a circus in Florida)


commonplace — Any statement or bit of knowledge that is commonly shared among a given audience or a community; also, an elementary exercise, or progymnasmata;
also, in invention, another term for a common topic.


commoratio (Pronunciation: “ko mo RAHT see oh” … L. “dwelling”) — Repetition of a point several times in different words.

“What didst thou covet? What didst thou wish? What didst thou desire?” (Cicero)

“Brave Sir Robin ran away
Bravely ran away, away
When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes, Brave Sir Robin turned about
Undoubtedly he chickened out
Bravely taking to his feet,
He beat a very brave retreat . . ..” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

“This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to
meet its maker! This is a late parrot! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life it
rests in peace–if you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up
the daisies! It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!
This is an ex-parrot!” (John Cleese in Monty Python’s Flying Circus)


complex sentence — Sentence that contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.

“He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.”
(George Eliot, Adam Bede)

“I think we ought to have as great a regard for religion as we can, so as to
keep it out of as many things as possible.” (Sean O’Casey, The Plough and the Stars)


compound sentence — A sentences that contains at least two independent clauses.

“The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.”
(W. H. Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening”)


concessionFigure wherein a rhetor concedes a disputed point or leaves a disputed point to the audience to decide.

“I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem
eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction
that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and had the
illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against
shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it
was sent out to the Philippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing
expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so.
But I stand corrected. I concede and acknowledge that it was only the
government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us
compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not
well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with
the administration.”
(Mark Twain, 1901)


confirmation — Part of a discourse that elaborates arguments in support of a rhetor’s position.

“The few bright meteors in man’s intellectual horizon could well be matched
by woman, were she allowed to occupy the same elevated poison. There is no
need of naming the De Staels, the Rolands, the Somervilles, the
Wollstonecrafts, the Wrights, the Fullers, the Martineaus, the Hemanses, the
Sigourneys, the Jagiellos, and the many more of modern as well as ancient
times, to prove her mental powers, her patriotism, her heroism, her
self-sacrificing devotion to the cause of humanity-the eloquence that gushes
from her pen or from her tongue. These things are too well known to require
repetition. And do you ask for fortitude of mind, energy, and perseverance?
Then look at woman under suffering, reverse of fortune, and affliction, when
the strength and power of man has sunk to the lowest ebb, when his mind is
overwhelmed by the dark waters of despair.-She, like the tender plant, bent
but not broken by the storms of life, now only upholds her own hopeful
courage, but, like the tender shoots of the ivy, clings around the
tempest-fallen oak, to bind up the wounds, peak hope to his faltering
spirit, and shelter him from the returning blast of the storm.”
(Ernestine L. Rose, from “An Address on Women’s Rights” 1851)


connotation — The emotional implications and associations that words may carry, as distinguished from their denotative (or dictionary) meanings. Connotations may be (1) private and personal, the result of individual experience; (2) group (national, linguistic, ethnic); or (3) general or universal (held by all or most people).


copia (Pronounced “KO pee ya”) — Expansive richness as a stylistic goal. See Erasmus’s De copia. [L.”abundance”]

“If I am truly that peace so extolled by God and by men; if I am really the
source, the nourishing mother, the preserver and the protector of all good
things in which heaven and earth abound; if, without me, no prosperity can
endure here below; if nothing pure or holy, nothing that is agreeable to God
or to men can be established on earth without my help; if, on the other
hand, war is incontestably the essential cause of all the disasters which
fall upon the universe and this plague withers at a glance everything that
grows; if, because of war, all that grew and ripened in the course of the
ages suddenly collapses and is turned into ruins; if war tears down
everything that is maintained at the cost of the most painful efforts; if it
destroys things that were most firmly established; if it poisons everything
that is holy and everything that is sweet; if, in short, war is abominable
to the point of annihilating all virtue, all goodliness in the hearts of
men, and if nothing is more deadly for them, nothing more hateful to God
than war — then, in the name of this immortal God I ask: who is capable of
believing without great difficulty that those who instigate it, who barely
possess the light of reason, whom one sees exerting themselves with such
stubbornness, such fervor, such cunning, and at the cost of such effort and
danger, to drive me away and pay so much for the overwhelming anxieties and
the evils that result from war — who can believe that such persons are
still truly men?”
(Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace)


crot — Verbal bit or fragment used as autonomous unit with absence of transitional devices to preceding or subsequent units, thereby creating an effect of abruptness and rapid transition.

“Heads, heads, take care of your heads . . . Five children–mother–tall
lady, eating sandwiches–forgot the arch–crash–knock–children look
round–mother’s head off–sandwich in her hand–no mouth to put it in–head
of a family off–shocking, shocking!” (Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit)
“Four senators get drunk and try to neck a lady politician built like an
overloaded tramp steamer. The Presidential automobile runs over a dog. It
rains.” (H.L. Mencken, “Imperial Purple”)

“Footprints around a KEEP OFF sign.
Two pigeons feeding each other.
Two showgirls, whose faces had not yet thawed the frost of their makeup,
treading indignantly through the slush.
A plump old man saying ‘Chick, chick’ and feeding peanuts to squirrels.
Many solitary men throwing snowballs at tree trunks.
Many birds calling to each other about how little the Ramble has changed.
One red mitten lying lost under a poplar tree.
An airplane, very bright and distant, slowly moving through the branches of
a sycamore.”
(John Updike, “Central Park”)


decorum — Fitness in matters of language and usage. At its simplest, the grand and important theme is treated in a dignified and noble style, the humble or trivial in a lower manner. (See Cicero’s discussion of decorum in De Oratore.)


deduction — Method of reasoning wherein a conclusion is derived from comparison of general to particular premises.

“Sherlock Holmes and Matthew Watson were on a camping and hiking trip. They
had gone to bed and were lying there looking up at the sky. Holmes said,
‘Watson, look up. What do you see?’
‘Well, I see thousands of stars.’
‘And what does that mean to you?’
‘Well, I guess it means we will have another nice day tomorrow. What does it
mean to you, Holmes?’
‘To me, it means someone has stolen our tent.’


dehortatio — Dissuasive advice given with authority. [L. “urging”]

“Sow seed–but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth–let no impostor heap:
Weave robes–let not the idle wear:
Forge arms–in your defense to bear.”
(Shelly, “A Song: ‘Men of England'”)

“Never give all the heart.” (William Butler Yeats)


diacope (Pronunciation: “di AK oh pee” … Gk. “a cutting in two”) — Repetition broken up by one or more intervening words.

“Put out the light, and then put out the light.”
(Shakespeare, Othello V.ii)

“Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.”
(Walt Whitman)

“I want to be alone. . . . I just want to be alone.”
(Greta Garbo in the 1932 film Grand Hotel)

“Someone ate the baby,
It’s rather sad to say.
Someone ate the baby
So she won’t be out to play.
We’ll never hear her whiney cry
Or have to feel if she is dry.
We’ll never hear her asking, ‘Why?’
Someone ate the baby.”
(Shel Silverstein, “Dreadful”)


dialectic — “Socratic method” of one-on-one question and answer. Plato’s Socrates usually presents it as an interactive method of argument aiming at truth, as against the uninterrupted and noninteractive speech of an orator, which presumably aims only to bamboozle the audience. Thus, in a loose sense, dialectic has come to mean a logical argument as opposed to the emotional, crowd-pleasing persuasion of rhetoric. However, recent studies (e.g., Lanham, Ong) argue that dialectic was originally a sophistic method.

Socrates: Polus has been taught how to make a capital speech, Gorgias; but he is not fulfilling the promise which he made to Chaerephon.
Gorgias: What do you mean, Socrates?
Soc. I mean that he has not exactly answered the question which he was asked.
Gor. Then why not ask him yourself?
Soc. But I would much rather ask you, if you are disposed to answer: for I see, from the few words which Polus has uttered, that he has attended more to the art which is called rhetoric than to dialectic.
Pol. What makes you say so, Socrates?
Soc. Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering some one who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was.
Polus: Why, did I not say that it was the noblest of arts?
Soc. Yes, indeed, but that was no answer to the question: nobody asked what was the quality, but what was the nature, of the art, and by what name we were to describe Gorgias. And I would still beg you briefly and clearly, as you answered Chaerephon when he asked you at first, to say what this art is, and what we ought to call Gorgias: Or rather, Gorgias, let me turn to you, and ask the same question what are we to call you, and what is the art which you profess?
Gor. Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art.
Soc. Then I am to call you a rhetorician?
Gor. Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call me that which, in Homeric language, “I boast myself to be.”
Soc. I should wish to do so.
Gor. Then pray do.
Soc. And are we to say that you are able to make other men rhetoricians?
Gor. Yes, that is exactly what I profess to make them, not only at Athens, but in all places.
Soc. And will you continue to ask and answer questions, Gorgias, as we are at present doing and reserve for another occasion the longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise, and answer shortly the questions which are asked of you?
Gor. Some answers, Socrates, are of necessity longer; but I will do my best to make them as short as possible; for a part of my profession is that I can be as short as any one.
Soc. That is what is wanted, Gorgias; exhibit the shorter method now, and the longer one at some other time.
Gor. Well, I will; and you will certainly say, that you never heard a man use fewer words.
(Plato, from the opening of Gorgias)


distinctio — Explicit references to various meanings of a word-usually for the purpose of removing ambiguities.

“If by light you mean ‘clear,’ I am glad you do see them; if by light you
mean of ‘no weight,’ I am sorry you do not feel them.” (Hoskyns)

“It depends on what the meaning of the word is is. If is means ‘and never
has been,’ that is one thing. If it means ‘there is none,’ that was a
completely true statement.”
(Bill Clinton, Grand Jury testimony)

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accumulation to bdelygmiacatachresis to distinctio | effectio to gradatio | homoioiteleuton to oxymoron | parable to running style | scheme to zeugma