Paronomasia et al.
Bill Long 12/01/04
Back to the Dictionary
I was going to include parrhesia as one of my "dictionary survey" words, thinking at first that I only needed a few lines to describe it, but then I took some time to think about it and ended up writing two essays on parrhesia! I will restrain myself here, introducing several words of signficance from fields beyond the rhetorical, in order to show how little-used words can be imported into our speech and writing.
Beginning with Paronomasia
I suppose I coudn't avoid beginning with paronomasia, a rhetorical term that literally means "to alter slightly in meaning," and, in fact is a pun. Thus, paronomasia differs from antanaclasis in that the latter is a play on words where the two words are identical to each other (such as two meanings in the following statement--"If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm"), while the former plays on similarities of sound between words. That is the nature of a pun.
Puns can be incredibly bad or utterly witty, and there isn't any need for me either to charm you with them or direct you to a web page full of them. They are all over the WWW. Fun with puns. Pun-liners. You get the picture. I like the combination of ananaclasis and paronomasia in Shakespeare's incomparable line from I Henry IV where Falstaff says to Prince Hal, "It is here apparent...that you are heir apparent." The here/heir is an example of paronomasia; the apparent/apparent is an example of antanaclasis.
Puns don't have to be witty to be effective. The most famous example of biblical paronomasia are the words of Jesus to Peter after his confession: "You are Peter (Petros) and upon this rock (petra), I will build my church (Matt 16:18)." The Century Dictionary provides a witty but learned quotation:
"My learned friend had dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous punster; and desiring him to give me some account of Mr. Swan's conversation, he told me that he generally talked in the Paronomasia, that he sometimes gave into the Ploce, but that in his humble opinion he shined most in the Antanaclasis."
Ploce, which Puttenham calls the "Doubler," is a rhetorical device (word is derived from the Greek for "plaiting") in which there is a repetition of a word after the intervention of another word or words. "By conquering the Gauls, Caesar showed himself to be Caesar."
We can't quite get away from rhetoric yet. Taken from the two Greek words meaning "to confess" and "partial" or "along side," paromology is a "figure by which an orator concedes something to his adversary in order to strenthghen his own argument." It can be done in humor, as in Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience: "Let me tell you a secret. I am not as bilious as I look...There is more innocent fun within me than a casual spectator would imagine..If you are fond of touch-and-go jocularity--this is the shop for it." Sometimes in rhetoric, and in law, we recognize the power there is in making a concession to the prejudice or need of the hearers. Such a confession/concession can actually win us points with them or lead to undermining them. "I grant that they are resolute, but...to their own undoing."
Though it looks daunting, the words paronomous and paronym actually have some utility. A paronym is defined as "a word which is derived from another, or from the same root; a derivative or cognate word." To paronomize is to adapt a foreign word by giving it a native form. I actually have used the word "transliterate" to suggest what paronomize does. Thus, we can say that parrhesia is a paronym, with the word nearly identical in Greek and English. The opposite term to paronym is heteronym, where a "different" name is given to a foreign term. Most words in English are heteronyms; very few are paronyms. "The relation between the Latin pons and the French pont is one of paronymy; but between pons and the English bridge it is one of heteronymy." Two other English terms synonymous with paronomy are homosynonymy and isonymy. Once you learn some roots, you can even make up some terms!
Let's close this day by introducing a word that usually only has reference to the structure (and accent) on Greek words but can be used occasionally in a broader sense. Paroxytone is a term meaning to write or pronounce with an acute accent on the penultimate syllable (2nd to last; the antepenult is the third to last and the ultima is the final syllable. By the way, a word with an acute accent on the antepenult is technically known as a proparoxytone but if the acute falls on the ultima it is an oxytone). Something therefore that is paroxytonic has nothing to do with what you might spread on your hair; it is a list of paroxytone words. Thus you could prepare a list of words with accents on the 2nd to last syllable and give them to students, with the question, "What, in one word, is a common characteristic of all these words?" Answer: "Paroxytones."
I see that in giving these four words and their relations, I skipped parousia. Well, we will have to come again to that someday--probably soon.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long