Schemes that break the rules

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How to misspell words and ignore grammar like a pro

Enallage — intentionally misusing grammar to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase. Boxing manager Joe Jacobs, for instance, became immortal with the phrase, “We was robbed!” Or, the editors of Punch magazine might tell their British readers, “You pays your money, and you takes your chances.”

Anapodoton — deliberately creating a sentence fragment by the omission of a clause: “If only you came with me!” If only students knew what anapodoton was! Good writers never use sentence fragments? Ah, but they can. And they do. When appropriate.

Neologism — creating a new or imaginary word. For example, Lewis Caroll writes: “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / did gyre and gimble in the wabe; / All mimsy were the borogoves, / and the mome raths outgrabe.” His lines here contain numerous imaginary words–though these might be excessive in a rhetorical writing rather than a literary one like his poem. Many neologisms result from metaplasmus, as discussed and subdivided below.

Metaplasmus –a type of neologism in which misspelling a word creates a rhetorical effect. To emphasize dialect, one might spell dog as “dawg.” To emphasize that something is unimportant, we might add –let or –ling at the end of the word, referring to a deity as a “godlet”, or a prince as a “princeling.” To emphasize the feminine nature of something normally considered masculine, try adding –ette to the end of the word, creating a smurfette or a corvette. To modernize something old, the writer might turn the Greek god Hermes into the Hermenator. Likewise, Austin Powers renders all things shagedelic. The categories following this entry are subdivisions of metaplasmus:

  • Prosthesis — adding an extra syllable or letters to the beginning of a word: Shakespeare writes in his sonnets, “All alone, I beweep my outcast state.” He could have simply wrote weep, but beweep matches his meter and is more poetic. Too many students are all afrightened by the use of prosthesis. Prosthesis creates a poetic effect, turning a run-of-the-mill word into something novel.
  • Epenthesis (also called infixation) — adding an extra syllable or letters in the middle of a word. Shakespeare might write, “A visitating spirit came last night” to highlight the unnatural status of the visit. More prosaically, Ned Flanders from The Simpsons might say, “Gosh-diddly-darn-it, Homer.”
  • Proparalepsis — adding an extra syllable or letters to the end of a word. For instance, Shakespeare in Hamlet creates the word climature by adding the end of the word temperature to climate (1.1.12). The wizardly windbag Glyndwr (Glendower) proclaims that he “can call spirits from the vasty deep” in 1 Henry IV (3.1.52).
  • Aphaearesis — deleting a syllable from the beginning of a word to create a new word. For instance, in King Lear, we hear that, “the king hath cause to plain” (3.1.39). Here, the word complain has lost its first syllable. In Hamlet 2.2.561, Hamlet asks, “Who should ‘scape whipping” if every man were treated as he deserved, but the e- in escape has itself cleverly escaped from its position!
  • Syncope — deleting a syllable or letter from the middle of a word. For instance, in Cymbeline, Shakespeare writes of how, “Thou thy worldy task hast done, / Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages” (4.2.258). In 2 Henry IV, we hear a flatterer say, “Your lordship, though not clean past your youth, hath yet some smack of age in you, some relish of the saltness of time” (1.2.112). Here, the -i- in saltiness has vanished to create a new word. Syncope is particularly common in poetry, when desperate poets need to get rid of a single syllable to make their meter match in each line.
  • Apocope — deleting a syllable or letter from the end of a word. In The Merchant of Venice, one character says, “when I ope my lips let no dog bark,” and the last syllable of open falls away into ope before the reader’s eyes (1.1.93-94). In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare proclaims, “If I might in entreaties find success–/ As seld I have the chance–I would desire / My famous cousin to our Grecian tents” (4.5.148). Here the word seldom becomes seld.

To the Winds Throwing Word Order!

Hyperbaton — a generic term for changing the normal or expected order of words. “One ad does not a survey make.” The term comes from the Greek for “overstepping” because one or more words “overstep” their normal position and appear elsewhere. For instance, Milton in Paradise Lost might write, “High on a throne of royal gold . . . Satan exalted sat.” In normal, everyday speech, we would expect to find, “High on a throne of royal gold . . . Satan sat exalted.” Subtypes of hyperbaton appear below the examples here:

  • “Arms and the man I sing”–Virgil
  • “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”–Variously attributed to Winston Churchill or Mark Twain
  • “I was in my life alone”–Frost
  • “Constant you are, but yet a woman”–1 Henry IV, 2.3.113
  • “Grave danger you are in. Impatient you are.” –Yoda, in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
  • “From such crooked wood as state which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.” –Kant
  • “pity this busy monster manunkind not.” –e. e. cummings.
  • Anastrophe — A type of hyperbaton in which the adjective appears after the noun when we expect to find the adjective before the noun. For example, Shakespeare speaks of “Figures pedantical” (LLL 5.2.407). Faulkner describes “The old bear [. . .] not even a mortal but an anachronism indomitable and invincible out of an old dead time.” T. S. Eliot writes of “Time present and time past,” and so on.
  • Hysteron-proteron — Using anastrophe in a way that creates a catachresis (see under tropes); an impossible ordering on the literal level. For instance, Virgil has the despairing Trojans in the Aeneid cry out in despair as the city falls, “Let us die, and rush into the heart of the fight.” Of course, the expected, possible order would be to “rush into the heart of the fight,” and then “die.” Literally, Virgil’s sequence would be impossible unless all the troops died, then rose up as zombies and ran off to fight. In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare writes, “I can behold no longer / Th’Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral, / With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder” (3.10.1). We would expect to turn the rudder and then flee or fly, not fly and then turn the rudder!
  • Hypallage — Combining two examples of hyperbaton or anastrophe when reversed elements are not grammatically or syntactically parallel. It is easier to give examples than to explain hypallage. Virgil writes, “The smell has brought the well-known breezes” when we would expect, in terms of proper cause-and-effect, to have the breezes bring well-known smells. In Henry V, Shakespeare writes, “Our gayness and our gift are besmirched / With rainy marching in the painful field” (4.3.110), when logically we would expect “with painful marching in the rainy field.” Roethke playfully states, “Once upon a tree / I came across a time.” In each example, not just one hyperbaton appears, but two when the two words switch places with the two spots where we expect to find them. The result often overlaps with hysteron-proteron, in that it creates a catachresis (See under tropes).

Tsmesis — intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis. Goldwyn once wrote, “I have but two words to say to your request: Im Possible.” Milton writes, “Which way soever man refer to it.” In one text of William Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned,” we learn that “Our meddling intellect / Mis shapes the beauteous forms of things” (as opposed to misshapes). In English, this rhetorical scheme is fairly rare, since only the compounds of “ever” readily lend themselves to it, but it is much more common in Greek and Latin.

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