Thursday, September 16, 2010

Figures of Speech

In a previous post I talked about rhetorical style.  In this post, I want to introduce a sub-category of style, that of rhetorical figures of speech (σχῆμα).

There are three subtypes of “figures.”  Tropes, which deal with single words, figures of speech, which deal with the artful ordering of multiple words, and figures of thought which deal with the artful ordering of thoughts. 

For Quintilian, a trope (which means a turn) is “the artistic alteration of a word or phrase from its proper meaning to another (Inst. Or. 8.6.1).” Thus, a trope is what we might call a “turn of phrase.”  A trope consists of using single words in a different way from their proper meaning in order to adorn one’s style.

According to Ps-Cicero, figures confer “distinction (dignitas)” on a composition (Rhet. Her. 4.13.18).  If a trope is the change of meaning for a single word, figures of speech are the uncommon ordering of words for rhetorical ornament.  Figures of speech give “fine polish” to the language.  A figure of thought on the other hand conveys distinction based upon the uncommon ordering or juxtaposition of thoughts, not the words themselves.

I refer to all three types of figures as  “figures of speech,” or sometimes merely “figures.”  While the distinctions are good from a conceptual or teaching basis, the function of tropes, figures of speech, and figures of thought are dependent on context, not on whether the given example is a trope, figure of speech, or figure of thought.

Check out my blog every Friday for the recurring post "The Friday Figure."

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