Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Bill Long 10/04/04
A Primer on More Rhetorical Terms than Anyone in His/Her Right Mind Would Ever Want to Know
[*I wrote a 3/23/08 essay covering much of this same ground, but with additional information on another grammarian who wrote on metaplasms. Here it is.]
Sometimes you just have to try to sort things out. We have all done so with old papers and books and records of many kinds. What do I keep and what do I discard? How do I arrange those things I keep? What really is the use of those things I keep? And on and on. My thesis today is that we can do the same thing for intellectual categories and pieces of knowledge. I confess that when it comes to classical words and categories I am somewhat of an intellectual packrat. I keep them all, even if I don't have much place for them in my life. I seem to want to build extra rooms on the Victorian mansion of my mind in which to store all these words. I think that somehow they point to a reality that once was alive and well, and I want to recapture that reality today. That is the dream and hope but sometimes, I confess, I just go by those new rooms in my Victorian mansion and see more things piled up. Well, let's examine one of the piles today. The title of the pile is metaplasms.
The word metaplasm suggests the concept of shaping or molding (something that is plastic is easily shaped). A metaplasm is an alteration of the verbal, grammatical or rhetorical structure of a word, or sentence, as well as the transposition of letters or syllables in a word. While the definition is a very broad one, stressing the "trophic" nature of metaplasm, the classical use of the term focuses on the changes that can be wrought on a particular word. Thus, Aelius Donatus, the influential fourth century grammarian, differentiates between the 12 stylistic vices, almost all of which have reference to more than one word (except for his definition of barbarism) and the 14 metaplasms, all of which relate to what you do with one word. Let's see what we can do with one word, according to Donatus.
Before we get confused we ought to start with simple things. By the way, that is my major complaint with academia today. Most teachers I have met over the years begin with the obscure stuff or, if they don't begin there, they descend into obscurity so quickly that they become almost incomprehensible. Under the guise of being smart, they sometimes become quite dumb. I think the key to developing and refining knowledge is never to stray far from first principles. Thus, when someone gets tangled up by trying to begin on a very "high level," I start with my first question. "Ok, we are in a room together, right?" Then, I gradually get to what is ailing the person. Often the confusion is not an expression of brilliance; it is just an indication of his/her inability to think clearly and getting tangled in current confusions. The basic questions are not usually asked because every one fears to be seen as simple or dumb if you ask them. I have found that it takes a very confident person to ask very simple questions.
So, we start simply. There will be plenty of time for confusion later. There are six basic terms to capture whether one is lengthening or shortening the beginning, middle or end of a word. The problem of shortening and lengthening words is especially acute in Greek both because the Attic dialect had a dislike for vowels being adjacent in consecutive words, and it required that the number of syllables in a line of text often had to follow prescribed rules. Thus, words are lengthened and shortened to fit these rules. We don't really have the same needs in English composition, even though we have examples of all these phenomena in English.
The Six Basic Terms
Let's begin with the beginning of the word. If we want to add something to it, it is called prothesis (i.e, placing in front of), while if we want to take away the first vowel sound, it is called aphaeresis (i.e., taking away). The three "R's" are reading, writing and 'rithmatic. 'Rithmatic is an example of the use of aphaeresis. Got it?
Then we can go to the middle of the word. If we add something there it is called epenthesis (i.e., placing on or upon), while if we take something away from the middle, it is called syncope. An example of epenthesis is calling a "realtor" a "realator." A more elevated academic way of using epenthesis is to call the "medieval" time the "mediaeval time" by throwing in an extra syllable. I ran into my first example of syncope, that I can remember, in fourth grade when we were reading RL Stevenson's Treasure Island. Between Long John Silver's "Shiver me timbers!" and other ecphonemes (exclamations. The "fancy name of the exclamation point is the ecphoneme), he seemed to be going to the fo'c'sle a lot. The consonants and vowels dropped out are an example of syncope.
Then, if you toy around with the end of the word, you either have paragoge, when you add something to the end of the word, or apocope, when you take something away. The Lord giveth and taketh away, so why not grammarians, too? Donatus tells us that paragoge can also be called prosparalepsis (but this might tend to some early confusion because we have already seen that paralepsis is a rhetorical device also known as praeteritio or "passing over" something by mentioning it briefly, and proslepsis is doing this in a very obvious fashion). So, let's stick to paragoge as the addition of something at the end, such as an extra "us,"--we might call someone a "jerkus," for example. Donatus gives "Achilles" changed to "Achilli" as an example of apocope. But now, the fun begins.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long