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Figures of Quality 5 страница

1. " He reminded James, as he said afterwards, of a hungry cat."

2. " Huddled in her grey fur against the sofa cushions, she had a
strange resemblance to a captive owl." (ibid.)

3. " Mr. Witte's method of paying off debts would be a form of
feeding a dog with bits of its own tail." (Nesfield)

2. Quasi-identity. Another problem arises if we inspect certain widespread cases of 'active identification' usually treated as tropes; when we look at the matter more closely, they turn out to be a special kind of syntagmatic phenomena.

What is meant here could be termed either 'tropes predicated' or perhaps 'tropes pre-deciphered'. Actually they are complete two-member utterances in which the theme ('topic') is the traditional, non-figurative denomination of an object, and the rheme ('comment'), its figurative, situational, characterizing denomination: a metaphor, a metonymy, or a combination of tropes (i.e., metaphor + hyperbole + irony amalgamated).

Utterances like Your neighbour is an ass or Jane is a real angel answer this description. They are traditionally qualified as examples of metaphors, although, as a matter of fact, only the words ass and angel are used metaphorically. Taken as a whole, the two utterances do not differ


greatly from similes. There are certainly no words in them that signalize comparison, but the mental act of comparative confrontation is evident enough, since no one would ever take the statements for what they mean literally. They (the utterances) are not metaphors in the strict sense of the term: the 'real' (usual) names of objects precede the figurative ones, and the idea of comparison, of claiming community of features in different objects is quite obvious. On the other hand, they lack what is indispensable for a simile, i.e. formal signals of comparison.

We can now positively state that the above utterances demonstrate a syntagmatic figure of active identification, which in both implies comparison.

There are, besides, other types of illogical identification: cases when the subject (theme, topic) and the predicative (rheme, comment) do not imply comparison, do not claim similarity, but expressly point out a real connection between the two objects. The general semantic formula here is not " N1 is (judging by community of features) N2", but " N1 is (in a way connected with) N2". This is observed when the rhematic part of an utterance is a metonymy:

" That old duffer? He's oil, I guess."

The old man spoken of is not proclaimed to be oil, or to resemble this liquid: the implication is that he is a dealer in oil, that his line of business is in the oil industry.

Another example of metonymy participating in syntagmatic devices treated here:

" Caracas is in Venezuela, of course." " What's it like? "

" Why, it's principally earthquakes and Negroes and monkeys and malarial fever and volcanoes." (O. Henry)

The author of the present book insisted (in 1975) on differentiating the phenomena discussed from metaphors and metonymies proper.2 A few years later, S.M. Mezenin suggested a special term for the phenomenon, naming it 'quasi-identity' («квазитождество» in Russian).3 The term seems quite acceptable.

Some of quasi-identities manifest special expressive force, chiefly when the usual topic — comment positions change places: the metaphoric (metonymical) name appears in the text first, the direct, straightforward denomination following it. See what happens, for instance, with a metaphorical characteristics preceding the deciphering noun:

" The machine sitting at that desk was no longer a man: it was a busy New York broker." (O. Henry)

The reader, who believes at first the subject dealt with to be just a machine, is strongly impressed when he learns in a moment the writer's verdict condemning the character concerned.

Similar results are achieved in Chandler's description of a young woman's coquetry:

"... she shot at me with two blue pellets which served her as eyes."

A considerable stylistic effect occurs in the following metonymic quasi-identity, for it strikes one as reversing the current maxim:

" Money is time, and writing an entertainment can bring a nov­elist a very sweet chunk of it." (Richler)

And it is not the mere fact of turning the current judgement topsy­turvy, but rather sudden enlightment: the statement discloses a really infallible idea, perhaps more profound than the one in universal use. A famous scholar once remarked that every act of economizing ultimately aims at (or results in) sparing Time, the greatest of human treasures, as the reader will probably admit.

3. Synonymous replacements. This term goes back to the classification of the use of synonyms proposed by M.D. Kuznets in a paper on synonyms in English as early as 1947.4 She aptly remarked that on the whole, synonyms are used in actual texts for two different reasons. One of them is to avoid monotonous repetition of the same word in a sentence or a sequence of sentences. E.g.:

" The little boy was crying. It was the child's usual time for going to bed, but no one paid attention to the kid."

(Cf.: " The little boy... It was the boy's... attention to the boy.") The other purpose of co-occurrence of synonyms in a text, according to Kuznets, is to make the description as exhaustive as possible under the circumstances, to provide additional shades of the meaning intended:

" Dear Paul, it's very weak and silly of me, I know, to be so trembly and shaky from head to foot." (Dickens) M.D. Kuznets called the two ways of using synonyms 'replacers' and 'specifiers' («заменители и уточнители» in the original wording). It was not her task or concern at the time to assign the two types to two different branches of stylistic semasiology, as is done in the present book.

Comparing the two examples, one is bound to come to certain conclusions:

a) in the first example, the communicator (as well as the recipient)
overlooks, or intentionally ignores, any differentiation of meaning in the
synonyms; they are used on the assumption of complete identity of their

b) in the second example, the speaker is anxious to specify, to make a
more adequate description of his mental and physical state: not only weak,
but also silly, trembly as well as shaky; two more or less synonymous
adjectives are supposed to be stronger than one.


It should be evident to the reader that the second type of synonym use has nothing in common with the idea of identity. Indeed, the synonyms are used here not because they are identical, for they are not. It is because they are different, because each has characteristics none of the others has. Therefore, the second type does not belong in this section of the chapter; it will be discussed in the one on figures of inequality (see below). Returning then to synonymous replacements, or, as they may also be termed, " variations", we will state again that they are resorted to for the sake of diversity, to avoid monotony. Excessive recurrence of the same words makes the style poor — in a way it betrays the poverty of one's vocabulary. See the following illustration:

" Well, ain't you the lucky one? Piggy's an awful swell; and he always takes a girl to swell places. He took Blanch up to the Hoffman House one evening, where they have swell music, and you see a lot of swells. You'll have a swell time, Dulce." (O. Henry)

Consider also this quatrain (from G. McKnight's book, often quoted in the present one):

Two adjectives Susannah knows

On these she takes her stand;

No matter how this world goes,

'Tis either fierce or grand.

Interchange of denominations of the same thing in speech (especially in writing) is called by English linguists 'elegant variation'.5 Examples:

" He brought home numberless prizes. He told his mother countless stories every night about his school companions." (Thackeray)

" Every man has somewhere in the back of his head the wreck of a thing which he calls his education. My book is intended to embody in concise form these remnants of early instruction." (Leacock)

Sometimes it is not synonyms that replace one another, but words (phrases) with essentially different meanings, which, however, can be regarded as 'situational' synonyms, or, to be more exact, co-referential units (i.e. such as apply to the same referent though classifying it in a different way). Thus, the same person can be referred to as neighbour, student, brother, Richard, he, etc. The words are not synonyms; they only happen to signify the same individual. Compare:

" She told his name to the trees. She whispered it to the flowers. She breathed it to the birds. Quite a lot of them knew it. At times she would ride her palfrey along the sands of the sea and call " Guido" to the waves. At other times she would tell it to the grass or even to the stick of cordwood or a ton of coal." (Leacock)

In certain cases we observe excessive use of this stylistic device: el­egant variation becomes too elegant, pretentious, in fact. Recall the ridiculous figure of Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield by Dickens. His wife's monologues are no less elaborate and ornamental than those of her husband's. Thus, speaking about their pecuniary difficulties, she alternately uses such synonymous expressions as / feel, I am aware, I must not forget, I well know. Paying an emotional tribute of fidelity to her ever unfortunate spouse, this eloquent female exclaims: " He is the parent of my children! He is the father of my twins! He is the husband of my affections, and I ne-ver-will-desert Mr. Micawberl" As can easily be noticed, the first two sentences are synonymous, the third pertains to the same object of adoration, being somewhat different as to the idea expressed. The reader will also make a mental note of parallelism, as well as of the emphatic stress on the word never: the stress marks gradation in the whole discourse (see below, " Figures of Inequality").

Both synonymous replacers and mere co-referents (non-synonymous words and expressions applying to the same object of speech) are usu­ally placed at some distance from one another: they do not immedi­ately follow one another, mostly recurring in adjacent sentences or clauses.

If we now confront simile and synonymic recurrence, we shall see that they are included in the same group of Identity Figures on rather shaky grounds. They are certainly not correlative as regards their functions. Placed in the class of 'equalizers', they have only one feature in common: an implied equality. Yet synonymic recurrence is not only 'passive' in comparison with the active identification to be found in similes (in which the statement Nt = N2 is the purpose of the utterance); of special significance is whether the identification concerns really similar (sometimes identical) notions, or whether language users equalize basically different things. Now we can see that simile, as well as quasi-identity (figurative characteristics which follows the traditional de­nomination — The chap is a perfect ass) are samples of the latter case (different things similarized), while elegant variation of names, or syn­onymic variation (recurrence of co-referent names) renders the idea of equality, identity to a fuller extent.

2. Figures of Inequality

Their semantic function is highlighting differences. The expression of differences can be, just as previously, either 'passive', i.e. nearly, though not quite unintentional (e.g. specifying synonyms), or 'active', i.e. used on purpose (e.g. climax, anti-climax), and, in some varieties, effecting humorous illogicality (pun, zeugma, pretended inequality).


Specifying, or clarifying synonyms. As suggested above, their use contributes to precision in characterizing the object of speech. Synonyms used for clarification mostly follow one another (in opposition to replacers), although not necessarily immediately. Clarifiers may either arise in the speaker's mind as an afterthought and be added to what has been said, or they occupy the same syntactical positions in two or more parallel sentences.

Thus, roughly, in a 'synonymic repetition', as this phenomenon is often called, the idea recurs, but it is not exactly the same idea: a subsequent synonym complements its predecessor, both are complemented by the third, and so on. Each imparts some additional features to the object, giving a fuller description of it. This is explained by the fact that no two synonyms can ever be absolutely identical in meaning or stylistic value. Hence the term 'synonymic repetition', though widely used and employed here as well, is not quite exact, since in many cases the clarifier is not a synonym of the clarified word (both being merely 'co-referential', i.e. characterizing the same referent): Uncle James looked old, fat, and sleepy. Neither the two nouns, nor the three adjectives are synonyms, but the former name the identical person each, the latter, the characteristic features of the person. Perhaps the term 'coreferential clarifiers' would serve our purpose better, yet this term, as well as the one entitling this section, are not current outside the present book.

In the example that follows, the three attributes have the idea of 'immorality' in common; the first and the third accuse the person spoken to of unreliability, slyness, and treason; the second points out violations of religious canons:


" You undevout, sinful, insidious hog, " says I to Murkison. (O. Henry)

Here is another example, where four adjectives of nearly identical (or closely linked) meanings are followed by a fifth, quite different from them semantically, and essentially lowering the writer's estimation of his character.

" Joe was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish dear fellow." (Dickens)

The next example with four adjectival attributes (the second and the fourth unquestionably epithets, since they are similes implied). Evidently the four words are not synonyms; they merely denote qualities that more often than not go together:

" Miss Tox escorted a plump, rosy-cheeked, wholesome, apple-faced young woman." (Dickens)

Sometimes, the narrator deliberately searches for the most fitting synonym, as in what follows:

" Just at daybreak, I was awakened by a series of awful screams from Bill. They weren't yells, or howls, or shouts, or whoops, or yawps, such as you'd expect from a manly set of vocal organs — they were simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams..." (O. Henry)

Climax (or: Gradation). The Greek word climax means 'ladder'; the Latin gradatio means 'ascent, climbing up'. These two synonymous terms denote such an arrangement of correlative ideas (notions expressed by words, word combinations, or sentences) in which what precedes is less than what follows. Thus the second element surpasses the first and is, in its turn, surpassed by the third, and so on. To put it otherwise, the first element is the weakest (though not necessarily weak!); the subsequent elements gradually increase in strength; the last being the strongest.

It is clear that the minimum number of elements (notions, meanings) is two; a greater expressive effect is achieved by participation of three or more units of meaning.

An essential point. Since climax (gradation) is formed, as mentioned, by correlative notions, the latter are supposed to belong to the same semantic plane: participating words, phrases, sentences that express 'ascendant' notions may be what is called 'ideographic synonyms': their meanings demonstrate different degrees of the property expressed, a different intensity of the quality implied, different quantitative parametres involved. A few examples:

" I am sorry, I am so very sorry, I am so extremely sorry." (Chesterton)

" What difference if it rained, hailed, blew, snowed, cycloned? " (O. Henry)

" The book has a power, so to speak, a very exceptional power; in fact, one may say without exaggeration it is the most powerful book of the month." (Leacock)

"... a very sweet story, singularly sweet; in fact, madam, the critics are saying it is the sweetest thing that Mr. Slush has done." (Leacock)

Let us also recall the following episode from Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw:

" DOOLITTLE. I'll tell you, Governor, if you'll only let me get a word in. I'm willing to tell you, I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you.

HIGGINS. Pickering: this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild. " I'm willing to tell you; I'm wanting to tell you; I'm waiting to tell you." Sentimental rhetoric! " (Shaw)


One cannot be certain that the word waiting is stronger by itself than the words wanting and willing. It is only felt to be the strongest due to its final position. On the whole, the most categorical statement is prepared, in climax, by the preceding ones, which circumstance creates emotional tension.

Anti-climax (or: Bathos). The device thus called is characterized by some authors as 'back gradation'. As its very name shows, it is the opposite to climax, but this assumption is not quite correct. It would serve no purpose whatever making the second element weaker than the first, the third still weaker, and so on. A real anti-climax is a sudden deception of the recipient: it consists in adding one weaker element to one or several strong ones, mentioned before. The recipient is disappointed in his expectations: he predicted a stronger element to follow; instead, some insignificant idea follows the significant one (ones). Needless to say, anti­climax is employed with a humorous aim. For example, in It's a bloody lie and not quite true, we see the absurdity of mixing up an offensive statement with a polite remark.

John Galsworthy describes the indignation of the Forsytes disap­pointed by Old Jolyon's will as follows:

"... he had actually left 15, 000 pounds to 'whomever do you think, my dear? To Irenel' that runaway wife of his nephew Soames; Irene, a woman who had almost disgraced the family, and — still more amazing — was to him no blood relation."

Such utterances are certainly not meant as illogical back-gradations, not by those who produce them. The last argument is, from their own egoistic viewpoint, the strongest one. The unexpected weakening is the result of the illogical and ludicrous way of reasoning.

On the whole, regarding the problem from the point of view of the speaker/writer, we can assume that except in cases of intended jest, anti­climax is climax erroneously programmed, disclosing a system of values contradicting our common sense. See Alexander Pope's description of ladies of his epoch, of the hysterics they display:

Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast, When husbands or when lap-dogs breathe their last. Mark Twain thus depicts contradictory weaknesses of the fair sex:

" A woman who could face the very devil himself or a mouse —

loses her grip and goes all to pieces in front of a flash of lightning."

In the above section on clarifying synonyms there was a description of

" inhuman piercing shrieks that could not have been produced by a manly

set of vocal organsthey were simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating

screams..." The quotation goes on as follows: "... such as women omit when

they see ghosts or caterpillars."

A kind of anti-climax is to be found in Francis Bacon's words:

" Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

Intended illogicality — violating rules of text formation — underly the'Pun'and'Zeugma'.

Pun. This term is synonymous with the current expression 'play upon words'. The semantic essence of the device is based on polysemy or homonymy. It is an elementary logical fallacy called 'quadruplication of the term'. The general formula for the pun is as follows: 'A equals В and С, which is the result of a fallacious transformation (shortening) of the two statements 'A equals B' and 'A equals C' (three terms in all). It turns out, however, that the A of the first statement only appears to be identical with that of the second. Thus we obtain four terms (members of the two propositions), instead of three: A, AV В and C; hence A =/A1

A few examples will illustrate the ambiguity of the words participating in the formation of the pun.

The Russian learner of English knows, it may be hoped, that the word spirits denotes both 'ghosts', 'apparitions', 'illusory visions' and 'strong drinks', 'alcohol' (depending on the context). Two characters of Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Dickens see a somewhat disconcerted-looking servant enter the room. " Have you been seeing spirits'! " asks him one of the gentlemen; his more realistically-minded companion suggests another version: " Or taking any? "

V. A. Kukharenko in her Book of Practice in Stylistics gives a joc­ular quotation from B. Evans: " There comes a period in every man's life, but she is just a semicolon in his." The witticism is clear to him who recalls that period is not only 'lapse of time', but punctuation mark as well. Thus a woman may be less than a period in a man's life: a mere semicolon!

More examples:

OFFICER. What steps [= measures] would you take if an enemy tank were coming toward you?

SOLDIER. Long ones.

Pun is either ambiguity (polysemy) actualized in one utterance which has at least two meanings, so that the recipient chooses one (1), or two contiguous utterances similar in form, their constituents having essentially different meanings (2).

1. One swallow does not make a summer.

The word swallow can be understood not only as a bird, but also as a gulp of strong drink.

Is life worth living? It depends on the liver.


Does the word liver mean 'large glandular organ secreting bile and purifying venous blood' or 'one who lives'? The case maybe treated either way.

The child is father of the man.

The sentence seems nonsensical unless understood that the word father is used figuratively — as 'predecessor', 'the one that lives before growing into manhood'.

2. It is not my principle to pay the interest, and it is not my interest to pay the principal.

As the reader will have noticed, we observe here a chiasmus (parallelism reversed) in which the word interest preserves its form, though changing its meaning: 'money paid for use of money lent' and 'advantage, profit, or generally, thing in which one is concerned'; the word principle, however, is replaced by its homophone principal; the former means 'general rule of conduct', the latter, 'the original sum lent'.

Alongside the English term 'pun', the international (originally French) term calembour is current (cf. the Russian каламбур). According to N.L. Uvarova, the term calembour should be restricted to actualization of ambiguity of a linguistic unit that does not recur.6 In contrast to this, 'play on words" (or 'quibble') implies recurrence of the same unit in the next sentence (1) or — which is of special importance here — its intentional mistreatment either by the same speaker (2), or (more often) by his interlocutor; in the latter case, what we observe is pretended, jocular misunderstanding (3).

Examples of the first and the second types can be seen above. Of special interest is the third type. Here, it is mostly intentional treating idioms as if they were word combinations (or single words) used in their primary sense. Two instances taken from N.L. Uvarova's essay:

" Why, you cannot deny that he has good turns in him."

" So has the corkscrew." (Behan)

DICKIE: I suppose you are thinking of Ada Fergusson.

PENELOPE: I confess she hadn't entirely slipped my mind.

DICKIE: Hang Ada Fergusson.

PENELOPE: I think it's rather drastic punishment. The gruesome jest quoted below shows the reverse process: the first speaker means actual cooks» the second motivates his decision by mentioning the proverbial cooks:

CANNIBAL COOK: Shall I stew both those cooks we captured from the steamer?

CANNIBAL KING: No, one is enough. Too many cooks spoil the broth.7

To conclude the section on puns one more example of pretended misunderstanding will suffice:

" Sam gave Toby a hug and said, 'Jesus, you really had us scared.' Toby grinned and said, 'You don't have to call me 'Jesus' when we're alone.'" (Sheldon)

Zeugma. As with the pun, this device consists in combining unequal, semantically heterogeneous, or even incompatible, words or phrases.

Zeugma is a kind of economy of syntactical units: one unit (word, phrase) makes a combination with two or several others without being repeated itself: " She was married to Mr. Johnson, her twin sister, to Mr. Ward; their half-sister, to Mr. Trench." The passive-forming phrase was married does not recur, yet is obviously connected with all three prepositional objects. This sentence has no stylistic colouring, it is practically neutral.

In stylistics, zeugma is co-occurrence and seeming analogy of syn­tactical connection of two or more units (words, phrases) with another unit. As a consequence, the very fact of proximity, of dose co-occurrence is unnatural, illogical since the resulting combinations are essentially different: they simply do not go together.

What is it that makes zeugmatic combinations look uncommon, strange, and often humorous? It may be disparity of grammatical types: one may be a free combination, the other an idiomatic set phrase (1); one is an adverbial prepositional phrase, the other a prepositional object or attribute (2); the grammatical connection is everywhere the same, but each unit pertains to a semantic sphere inconsistent with the other (3).

A Dickensian personage "... was. alternately cudgeling his brains and his donkey." The set expression to cudgel one's brains means 'to break one's head over something' (i.e. 'to think desperately, looking for a solution'), while to cudgel a donkey is a free word combination, which implies real, not metaphorical beating of the animal with a cudgel (a big stick, a bludgeon). The Russian equivalent might be: «ломал себе голову и ребрасвоему ослу.» In the well-known Russian joke Он пил чай с женой, лимоном и удовольствием the first combination functions as a prepositional object, the second as an attribute to the word tea, the third is an adverbial modifier of manner.

The two following examples demonstrate perhaps the most frequent type of zeugma (grammatical analogy and semantic incompatibility):

" She dropped a tear and her pocket handkerchief." (Dickens) " She possessed two false teeth and a sympathetic heart." (O. Henry)

An especially elaborate set of zeugmas is bestowed upon the reader in what follows:


" At noon Mrs. Turpin would get out of bed and humor, put on kimono, airs and the water to boil for coffee." (O. Henry) As a general rule, zeugma, with its tendency towards the absurd, or at least to illogicality, is employed in humorous texts. Exceptions can be found in some of Vysotsky's songs: " How much timber and faith have since fallen, How much grief fell in all our days! " " In the sawdust, in the sawdust He spilled his resentment and blood." «Меня в заблужденье он ввел и в пике Прямо из мертвой петли» (no English version of the lines published).

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