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Lexical Stylistic Devices


Metaphor. Metonymy. Synecdoche. Play on Words. Irony. Epithet.

Hyperbole. Understatement. Oxymoron


You know by now that among multiple functions of the word the main one is to denote, denotational meaning thus being the major semantic characteristic of the word. In this paragraph we shall deal with the foregrounding of this particular function, i.e. with such types of denoting phenomena that create additional expressive, evaluative, subjective connotations. We shall deal in fact with the substitution of the existing names approved by long usage and fixed in dictionaries by new, occasional, individual ones, prompted by the speaker's subjective original view and evaluation of things. This act of name-exchange, of substitution is traditionally referred to as transference, for, indeed, the name of one object is transferred onto another, proceeding from their similarity (of shape, colour, function, etc.), or closeness (of material existence, cause/ effect, instrument/result, part/whole relations, etc.).

Each type of intended substitution results in a stylistic device (SD) called also a trope. The most frequently used, well known and elaborated among them is a metaphor - transference of names based on the associated likeness between two objects, as in the "pancake", or "ball", or "volcano" for the "sun"; "silver dust", "sequins" for "stars"; "vault", "blanket", "veil" for the "sky".

From previous study you know that nomination - the process of naming reality by means of the language - proceeds from choosing one of the features characteristic of the object which is being named, for the representative of the object. The connection between the chosen feature, representing the object, and the word is especially vivid in cases of transparent "inner form" when the name of the object can be easily traced to the name of one of its characteristics. Cf.: "railway", "chairman", "waxen". Thus the semantic structure of a word reflects, to a certain extent, characteristic features of the piece of reality which it denotes (names). So it is only natural that similarity between real objects or phenomena finds its reflection in the semantic structures of words denoting them: both words possess at least one common semantic component. In the above examples with the "sun" this common semantic component is "hot" (hence - "volcano", "pancake" which are also "hot"), or "round" ("ball", "pancake" which are also of round shape).

The expressiveness of the metaphor is promoted by the implicit simultaneous presence of images of both objects - the one which is actually named and the one which supplies its own "legal" name. So that formally we deal with the name transference based on the similarity of one feature common to two different entities, while in fact each one enters a phrase in the complexity of its other characteristics. The wider is the gap between the associated objects the more striking and unexpected - the more expressive - is the metaphor.

If a metaphor involves likeness between inanimate and animate objects, we deal with personification, as in "the face of London", or "the pain of the ocean".

Metaphor, as all other SDs, is fresh, orginal, genuine, when first used, and trite, hackneyed, stale when often repeated. In the latter case it gradually loses its expressiveness becoming just another entry in the dictionary, as in the "leg of a table" or the "sunrise", thus serving a very important source of enriching the vocabulary of the language.

Metaphor can be expressed by all notional parts of speech, and functions in the sentence as any of its members.

When the speaker (writer) in his desire to present an elaborated image does not limit its creation to a single metaphor but offers a group of them, each supplying another feature of the described phenomenon, this cluster creates a sustained (prolonged) metaphor.


Exercise I. Analyse the given cases of metaphor from all sides mentioned above - semantics, originality, expressiveness, syntactic function, vividness and elaboration of the created image. Pay attention to the manner in which two objects (actions) are identified: with both named or only one - the metaphorized one presented explicitly:

1. She looked down on Gopher Prairie. The snow stretching without break from street to devouring prairie beyond, wiped out the town's pretence of being a shelter. The houses were black specks on a white sheet. (S.L.)

2. And the skirts! What a sight were those skirts! They were nothing but vast decorated pyramids; on the summit of each was stuck the upper half of a princess. (A.B.)

3. I was staring directly in front of me, at the back of the driver's neck, which was a relief map of boil scars. (S.)

4. She was handsome in a rather leonine way. Where this girl was a lioness, the other was a panther - lithe and quick. (Ch.)

5. His voice was a dagger of corroded brass. (S.L.)

6. Wisdom has reference only to the past. T-he future remains for ever an infinite field for mistakes. You can't know beforehand. (D.H.L.)

7. He felt the first watery eggs of sweat moistening the palms of his hands. (W. S.)

8. At the last moment before the windy collapse of the day, I myself took the road down. (Jn. H.)

9. The man stood there in the middle of the street with the deserted dawnlit boulevard telescoping out behind him. (..)

10. Leaving Daniel to his fate, she was conscious of joy springing in her heart. (A.B.)

11. He smelled the ever-beautiful smell of coffee imprisoned in the can. (J. St.)

12. We talked and talked and talked, easily, sympathetically, wedding her experience with my articulation. (Jn.B.)

13. "We need you so much here. It's a dear old town, but it's a rough diamond, and we need you for the polishing, and we're ever so humble...". (S.L.)

14. They walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate. (W.G.)

15. Geneva, mother of the Red Cross, hostess of humanitarian congresses for the civilizing of warfare! (J.R.)

16. She and the kids have filled his sister's house and their welcome is wearing thinner and thinner. (U.)

17. Notre'Dame squats in the dusk. (H.)

18. I am the new year. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time. I am your next chance at the art of living.

I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned during the last twelve months about life.

All that you sought the past year and failed to find is hidden in me; I am waiting for you to search it out again and with more determination.

All the good that you tried to do for others and didn't achieve last year is mine to grant - providing you have fewer selfish and conflicting desires.

In me lies the potential of all that you dreamed but didn't dare to do, all that you hoped but did not perform, all you prayed for but did not yet experience. These dreams slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of an enduring purpose. I am your opportunity. (. .)

19. Autumn comes And trees are shedding their leaves, And Mother Nature blushes Before disrobing. (N. W.)

20. He had hoped that Sally would laugh at this, and she did, and in a sudden mutual gush they cashed into the silver of laughter all the sad" secrets they could find in their pockets. (U.)

21. All across the Union audiences clamour for her arrival, which will coincide with that of the new century. For we are at the fag-end, the smouldering cigar-butt, of a nineteenth century which is just about to be ground out in the ashtray of history. (An.C.)

Metonymy, another lexical SD, - like metaphor - on losing its originality also becomes instrumental in enriching the vocabulary of the language, though metonymy is created by a different semantic process and is based on contiguity (nearness) of objects or phenomena. Transference of names in metonymy does not involve a necessity for two different words to have a common component in their semantic structures, as is the case of metaphor, but proceeds from the fact that two objects (phenomena) have common grounds of existence in reality. Such words as "cup" and "tea" have no linguistic semantic nearness, but the first one may serve the container of the second, hence - the conversational cliche "Will you have another cup?", which is a case of metonymy, once original, but due to long use, no more accepted as a fresh SD.

"My brass will call your brass," says one of the characters of A. Hailey's Airport to another, meaning "My boss will call your boss." The transference of names is caused by both bosses being officers, wearing uniform caps with brass cockades.

The scope of transference in metonymy is much more limited than that of metaphor, which is quite understandable: the scope of human imagination identifying two objects (phenomena, actions) on the grounds of commonness of one of their innumerable characteristics is boundless while actual relations between objects are more limited. This is why metonymy, on the whole,- is a less frequently observed SD, than metaphor.

Similar to singling out one particular type of metaphor into the self-contained SD of personification, one type of metonymy - namely, the one, which is based on the relations between a part and the whole - is often viewed independently as synecdoche.

As a rule, metonymy is expressed by nouns (less frequently - by substantivized numerals) and is used in syntactical functions characteristic of nouns (subject, object, predicative).

Exercise II. Indicate metonymies, state the type of relations between the object named and the object implied, which they represent, lso pay attention to the degree of their originality, and to their syntactical function:

1. He went about her room, after his introduction, looking at her pictures, her bronzes and clays, asking after the creator of this, the painter of that, where a third thing came from. (Dr.)

2. She wanted to have a lot of children, and she was glad that things were that way, that the Church approved. Then the little girl died. Nancy broke with Rome the day her baby died. It was a secret break, but no Catholic breaks with Rome casually. (J.O'H.)

3. "Evelyn Glasgow, get up out of that chair this minute." The girl looked up from her book. "What's the matter?"

"Your satin. The skirt'll be a mass of wrinkles in the back." (E. F.)

4. Except for a lack of youth, the guests had no common theme, they seemed strangers among strangers; indeed, each face, on entering, had straggled to conceal dismay at seeing others there. (T.C.)

5. She saw around her, clustered about the white tables, multitudes of violently red lips, powdered cheeks, cold, hard eyes, self-possessed arrogant faces, and insolent bosoms. (A.B.)

6. Dinah, a slim, fresh, pale eighteen, was pliant and yet fragile. (. .)

7. The man looked a rather old forty-five, for he was already going grey. (K. P.)

8. The delicatessen owner was a spry and jolly fifty. (T. R.)

9. "It was easier to assume a character without having to tell too many lies and you brought a fresh eye and mind to the job." (P.)

10. "Some remarkable pictures in this room, gentlemen. A Holbein, two Van Dycks and if I am not mistaken, a Velasquez. I am interested in pictures." (Ch.)

11. You have nobody to blame but yourself. The saddest words of tongue or pen. (I.Sh.)

12. For several days he took an hour after his work to make inquiry taking with him some examples of his pen and inks. (Dr.)

13. There you are at your tricks again. The rest of them do earn their bread; you live on my charity. (E.Br.)

14. I crossed a high toll bridge and negotiated a no man's land and came to the place where the Stars and Stripes stood shoulder to shoulder with the Union Jack. (J. St.)

15. The praise was enthusiastic enough to have delighted any common writer who earns his living by his pen. (S.M.)

16. He made his way through the perfume and conversation. (I.Sh.)

17. His mind was alert and people asked him to dinner not for old times' sake, but because he was worth his salt. (S.M.)

18. Up the Square, from the corner of King Street, passed a woman in a new bonnet with pink strings, and a new blue dress that sloped at the shoulders and grew to a vast circumference at the hem. Through the silent sunlit solitude of the Square this bonnet and this dress floated northwards in search of romance. (A.B.)

19. Two men in uniforms were running heavily to the Administration building. As they ran, Christian saw them throw away their rifles. They were portly men who looked like advertisements for Munich beer, and running came hard to them. The first prisoner stopped and picked up one of the discarded rifles. He did not fire it, but carried it, as he chased the guards. He swung the rifle like a club, and one of the beer advertisements went down (I.Sh.)

As you must have seen from the brief outline and the examples of metaphor and metonymy, the first one operates on the linguistic basis (proceeding from the similarity of semantic components of a word), while the latter one rests solely on the extralinguistic, actually existing relations between the phenomena denoted by the words.

Our next concern is a cluster of SDs, which are united into a small group as they have much in common both in the mechanism of their formation and in their functioning. They are - pun (also referred to as paronomasia), zeugma, violation of phraseological units, semantically false chains, and nonsense of non-sequence. In the stylistic tradition of the English-speaking countries only the first two are widely discussed. The latter two, indeed, may be viewed as slight variations of the first ones for, basically, the foursome perform the same stylistic function in speech, and operate on the same linguistic mechanism: namely, one word-form is deliberately used in two meanings. The effect of these SDs is humorous. Contextual conditions leading to the simultaneous realization of two meanings and to the formation of pun may vary: it can be misinterpretation of one speaker's utterance by the other, which results in his remark dealing with a different meaning of the misinterpreted word or its homonym, as in the famous case from the Pickwick Papers When the fat boy, Mr. Wardle's servant, emerged from the corridor, very pale, he was asked by his master: "Have you been seeing any spirits?" "Or taking any?" - added Bob Alien. The first "spirits" refers to supernatural forces, the second one - to strong drinks.

Punning may be the result of the speaker's intended violation of the listener's expectation, as in the jocular quotation from B. Evans "There comes a period in every man's life, but she is just a semicolon in his." Here we expect the second half of the sentence to unfold the content, proceeding from "period" understood as "an interval of time", while the author has used the word in the meaning of "punctuation mark" which becomes clear from the "semicolon", following it.

Misinterpretation may be caused by the phonetic similarity of two homonyms, such as in the crucial case of O. Wilde's play The Importance of Being Ernest.

In very many cases polysemantic verbs that have a practically unlimited lexical valency and can be combined with nouns of most varying semantic groups, are deliberately used with two or more homogeneous members, which are not connected semantically, as in such examples from Ch. Dickens: "He took his hat and his leave", or "She went home, in a flood of tears and a sedan chair". These are cases of classical zeugma, highly characteristic of English prose.

When the number of homogeneous members, semantically disconnected, but attached to the same verb, increases, we deal with semantically false chains, which are thus a variation of zeugma. As a rule, it is the last member of the chain that falls out of the thematic group, defeating our expectancy and producing humorous effect. The following case from S. Leacock may serve an example: "A Governess wanted. Must possess knowledge of Romanian, Russian, Italian, Spanish, German, Music and Mining Engineering."

As you have seen from the examples of classical zeugma, the tiesbetween the verb on one hand and each of the dependent members, onthe other, are of different intensity and stability. In most cases one ofthem, together with the verb, forms a phraseological unit or a cliche, inwhich the verb loses some of its semantic independence and strength(Cf.: "to take one's leave" and "to take one's hat"). Zeugma restores theliteral original meaning of the word, which also occurs in violation ofphraseological units of different syntactical patterns, as in Galsworthy'sremark: "Little Jon was born with a silver spoon in his mouth which wasrather curly and large." The word "mouth", with its content, is completelylost in the phraseological unit which means "to have luck, to be bornlucky". Attaching to the unit the qualification of the mouth, the authorrevives the meaning of the word and offers a very fresh, original andexpressive description.

Sometimes the speaker (writer) interferes into the structure of the word attributing homonymous meanings to individual morphemes as in these jocular definitions from Esar's dictionary: professorship a ship full of professors; relying - telling the same story again; beheld - to have somebody hold you, etc.

It is possible to say thus that punning can be realized on most levels of language hierarchy. Indeed, the described violation of word-structure takes place on the morphological level; zeugma and pun - on the lexical level; violation of phraseological units includes both lexical and syntactical levels; semantically false chains and one more SD of this group - nonsense of non-sequence - on the syntactical level.

Nonsense of non-sequence rests on the extension of syntactical valency and results in joining two semantically disconnected clauses into one sentence, as in: "Emperor Nero played the fiddle, so they burnt Rome." (E.) Two disconnected statements are forcibly linked together by cause / effect relations.


Exercise III. Analyse various cases of play on words, indicate which type is used, how it is created, what effect it adds to the utterance:

1. After a while and a cake he crept nervously to the door of the parlour. (A. T.)

2 There are two things I look for jn a man. A sympathetic character and full lips. (I.Sh.)

3. Dorothy, at my statement, had clapped her hand over her mouth to hold down laughter and chewing gum. (Jn.B.)

4. I believed all men were brothers; she thought all men were husbands. I gave the whole mess up. (Jn.B.)

5. In December, 1960, Naval Aviation News, a well-known special publication, explained why "a ship" is referred to as "she": Because there's always a bustle around her; because there's usually a gang of men with her; because she has waist and stays; because it takes a good man to handle her right; because she shows her topsides, hides her bottom and when coming into port, always heads for the buyos." (N.)

6. When I am dead, I hope it may be said:

"His sins were scarlet, but his books were read." (H. B.)

7. Most women up London nowadays seem to furnish their rooms with nothing but orchids, foreigners and French novels. (O.W.)

8. I'm full of poetry now. Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry. (H )

9. "Bren, I'm not planning anything. I haven't planned a thing in three years... I'm - I'm not a planner. I'm a liver."

"I'm a pancreas," she said. "I'm a " and she kissed the absurd game away. (Ph. R.)

10. "Someone at the door," he said, blinking.

"Some four, I should say by the sound," said Fili. (A. T.)

11. He may be poor and shabby, but beneath those ragged trousers beats a heart of gold. (E.)

12. Babbitt respected bigness in anything: in mountains, jewels, muscles, wealth or words. (S.L.)

13. Men, pals, red plush seats, white marble tables, waiters in white aprons. Miss Moss walked through them all. (M.)

14. My mother was wearing her best grey dress and gold brooch and a faint pink flush under each cheek bone. (W.G1.)

15. Hooper laughed and said to Brody, "Do you mind if I give Ellen something?"

"What do you mean?" Brody said. He thought to himself, give her what? A kiss? A box of chocolates? A punch in the nose?

"A present. It's nothing, really." (P.B.)

16. "There is only one brand of tobacco allowed here - "Three nuns". None today, none tomorrow, and none the day after." (Br. B.)

17. "Good morning," said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining and the grass was very green. (A.T.)

18. Some writer once said: "How many times you can call yourself a Man depends on how many languages you know." (M.St.)


Date: 2015-01-12; view: 1387

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