Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rhetoric... and Its Tropes and Figures

My paternal grandmother completed, several years ago and after a lot of work, her doctorate in Rhetoric. She currently teaches Rhetoric (among other things) at Texas Wesleyan University. When I was down in Texas visiting her almost six weeks ago, she was showing me some of the tropes and figures of Rhetoric. Apparently, the dozen that she gave me as examples was but a small sampling of the approximately 500 that make up the complete list!
Nonetheless, they were quite fascinating to someone like me, who finds language endlessly fascinating and marvelous. We use some of them frequently even in our spoken language without even knowing that we're doing so!

Take, for example, synonymy. I use this one very often in the hopes of conveying more clearly what I'm saying and to avoid misunderstandings... though in my case, it probably comes across a lot more like mindless reiteration than like spoken literature. LOL!
Synonymy — literally means the same name. The rhetor uses words that are similar in meaning as a means of repeating an important point: “Call it treason, betrayal, sedition, or villainy — it is one.” Another example: “You have overturned the laws of the land on their head; you have demolished order of the state at its foundation.”

Some of them coincide with the figures of speech commonly employed in composition:
Simile and hyperbole are two that you are more familiar with. Hyperbole can be defined as a gentle straining of the truth, or exaggeration. For example, Cicero wrote about a skinny man that he had legs like parsley. I heard this once during a summer heat wave: “hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell.” Simile, on the other hand is a metaphor but it uses "like" or "as" in its comparison.

And this is one of my favorites:
Antanaclasis — occurs with the repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance. For example, “I would leave this place, should the state give me leave.” Or Ben Franklin’s famous statement: “Your argument is sound...all sound.”

Aren't those cool? :) Although these figures are Greek in origin and can be used in any language, I think that English probably has the greatest variety in its presentation than any other western language, simply because it is a combination of several other languages. This gives it the ability to be extremely diverse in its powers of description.

So awesome... :)

1 comment:

A Borg said...

That is pretty neat. Now I wish that I had studied rhetoric. It would really help with Fictional Corner.