SunWinks! May 25, 2014: The Greeks Have A Word For It

Dear SunWinkers!

I happened on an utterly fascinating book the other day: it’s Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase by Arthur Quinn [Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith Inc., 1982]. It turns out there are at least 60 ways to turn a phrase, and every one of them has a Greek name.

Greek BustQuinn begins with the example: “We was robbed!” That’s the rhetorical device of enallage, which just means being effectively ungrammatical. (As the saying goes, “The Greeks have a word for it.”) Now, if Joe Jacobs, professional fight manager, had said in 1932, “We were robbed!” would anybody remember that? I doubt it.

By the same token, if Abraham Lincoln had said, “Eighty-seven years ago…” do you think anybody would be saying that today? There isn’t an American alive who hasn’t said at one time or another, “Four-score and seven years ago…” even if they’ve forgotten the rest of the Gettysburg Address. That’s the figure of periphrasis: using more words than you have to.

The Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech are full of powerful rhetorical flourishes. In Lincoln’s era and before, classes in rhetoric would be part of the curriculum. Those of course have gone the way of Latin classes, which a dwindling number of people would say is a shame. And at any rate, King doubtless learned his rhetorical skills in church, and Lincoln mostly learned from self-directed reading of whatever great literature fortuitously came his way. Which only goes to show there’s more than one way to separate a cat from its fur coat (another periphrasis).

“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish…” There are two devices in play here. Epistrophe is repeating a word or words (“the people”) at the end of a succession of phrases. Asyndeton is omitting an expected conjunction, in this case, an “and” before “for the people.” (The opposite device, Polysyndeton, adds conjunctions, as in Yeats’ “When you are old and gray and full of sleep.”)
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SunWinks! May 18, 2014

SunWinks! May 18, 2014

It’s impossible to overstate the inspiration Gather has been to my writing. The kind comments, the eager responses, the enthusiasm for writing in general, makes me want to write more and more, and better and better. When Gather crashed, so did I. I didn’t have another writer community and haven’t found one. And the writing just stopped happening.

I wrote this in July, in one of my last columns for Gather. The following month, I buried my father after a long decline. A couple months later, my mother broke her shoulder. Since hanging out my shingle as a freelance writer, I’ve participated in a variety of projects, a lot of them involving churning out scads of Internet content. So without an active community, an actual audience waiting for it on a regular basis, you can see it was all too easy for SunWinks! to go by the boards.

Then Greg Schiller launched the Writing Essential Group the other day, and already, many old friends are coming together. I jumped at the chance to participate, and here I am, amusingly, a “Sunday Editor” again. And SunWinks! looks poised to emerge from its medically induced coma.

Now there’s an odd image.

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