A Festival of Words IV
Bill Long 3/23/07
Words from the CWL, Beginning with P
Though I still must keep to my promise to write about ananym, shamanstvo, lipogram and some other words, I use this essay to wander into the "p's" on my list of infrequently appearing words and explain some of them to you. Each of them is a very useful word in the world from which it comes; let's try to enter those worlds in the next few minutes.
Ploce (PLO see)
If we began with the Unabridged we might not ever use this term. All it says is: "emphatic repetition of a word with particular reference to its special significance" (as in "a wife who was a wife indeed"). If in despair we consulted the Collegiate, the dictionary of the Senior Bee, we might be heartened because the Collegiate doesn't even have the word. Why heartened? Well, maybe we would think that it was all a bad dream and that the Collegiate really does contain all of life's words. But, alas, the Collegiate is more like "secondary" than "collegiate" once again. We know from the Greek root that ploce has something to do with weaving or plaiting or a repeated motion. The OED is a little more helpful. "The repetition of a word in an altered or more expressive state, or for the sake of emphasis." Peacham's 1577 Garden of Eloquence defined it in this way: "when a proper name beyng repeated, doeth signify another thyng." Ok. Getting warmer. Then, in a 17th century rhetorical handbook, we have: "Ploce,... a "Rhetorical figure of Elocution,..as, In that great victory Caesar was Caesar." Let's go to Prof. Gideon Burton's page on rhetoric, where he breaks down ploce for us even further.
Ploce, Polyptoton and Antanaclasis
He defines ploce as a repetition of a single word, but then says, "Ploce is a general term and has sometimes been used in place of more specific terms such as polyptoton...or antanaclasis." Here is how he distinguishes ploce from the other two terms. Polyptoton is the repetition of a word but in a different form. Well, that is his "American" or "English" definition. In fact, the "ptoton" in the end is the Greek word ptosis, a word meaning "falling" or "falling off," and more specifically refers to different cases for nouns/adjectives other than the nominative case. Thus, polyptoton literally means "many cases," or where a word which appears in the nominative also appears in other case forms in quick order. Let me give you a Latin (classical) illustration of this before wimpily retreating to English. We have:
"Mors mortis morti mortem nisi morte tulisset,
Aeternae vitae janua clausa foret."
"Unless the death of death had brought death to death by [his, i.e., Christ's] death, the door to eternal life would have been closed."
Isn't that a really cute little ditty? You can memorize it quite easily and go around saying it. If they throw you in the state mental hospital, plead polyptoton. Hm, maybe they would throw you in for life if you did that...Well, if we return to "English" to seek for an example of polyptoton, we have Tennyson's line: "my own heart's heart, and ownest own, farewell..." Or, Burton cites from Richard II: "With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder."
Antanaclasis, clashing or "bending back," is "the repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance." Whereas polyptoton is in the OED, Century, and Unabridged, antanaclasis only appears in the Century and the OED. Prof. Burton uses examples which he draws from the Century to illustrate the phenomenon. One will suffice. "In thy youth learn some craft, that in thy old age thou mayest get thy living without craft." Or, theologically, "That Abraham against hope believed in hope." It is also called an "elegant figure, having the form of a contradiction." All of this is good to know and even to use. Yikes I am 2/3 of the way through this essay, and I have only gotten to one word. Let's rush.
Pridian et al.
Something pridian happened yesterday (Latin "of or relating to the previous day"). Thackeray gives the funniest example of its use: "Thrice a week...does Gann breakfast in bed..sure sign of pridian intoxication." Then we have poitrel, which is listed in the Unabridged as "a medieval often richly decorated peice of armor used to protect the breast of a horse." We have a slew of interesting terminology in this 1920 quotation: "For the head there was..the chanfron, (spelled chamfron in the Unabridged; not present in the OED), for the neck the crinet, for the chest the poitrel." The OED says that another spelling of poitrel is poytrel, but the Unabridged only has poitrel. A person could really get confused here. That is why spelling bees are, in fact, only "period pieces," where we test kids (or adults) on current understanding of how we ought to spell a word, based on a committee's vote and entry into a dictionary, even though the word probably was spelled in several other defensible ways in previous times.
Well, let's close this essay with the wonderful word proneur. Derived from the rare verb prone, which means "to read out, make proclamation" (from the French proner, to address a congregation, or prone, the choir screen from which the address was given), a proneur is a euolgizer or flatterer. By the way, this is not the same word from which prone, the adjective, is derived. That is taken from the Latin pronus, bent or learning forward. Though, as it seems to me, I wonder why they aren't both from the same root ultimately. If you "bend or lean forward" you are, in a sense, "bowing" to someone and "flattering" them. Indeed, this makes for a pretty vivid picture for us. But for purposes of this article, I will keep them separate, and say that a proneur is one who delivers a flattering address to someone. From 1812: "this depreciator..of Vivian..had been his political proneur and unblushing flatterer." For some reason, however, I can't the picture out of my mind of a flatterer who is "prone," i.e., bent over in supplication or in submission to someone.
I do love, however, a synonym of proneur: a claqueur. All dictionaries have this one. A claque is a group hired to applaud at a performance. A claqueur is a member of a claque. Now that the campaign for the Presidential election of 2008 is in full swing, beware of the claqueurs. These oleaginous and sycophantic people will be lurking behind every door and be at every rally.
Let's return to four things: my list, the CWL list, some terminology from my burgeoning "Linnean" studies and some other words that come up in the process. Thanks for joining me.