Page images

does not exhaust the scope of language; the latent force is greater than that which is manifest. The skillful writer shapes and fits the literal established language to suit his own necessity, limited only by the suggestive resources of his own mind. “ The heavy preponderance of the weight of language is in the scale of its figurative uses. Analogies connect all words with all words. By means of figurative speech, all departments of thought illumine each other. Originality in style appears chiefly in the discovery of analogies, and fitting them to use." 1

Thus the advantage of figurative language does not wholly nor chiefly lie in the economical increase of the vocabulary, but in the greater clearness, elegance, and energy secured by expressing one thing in the form of another. By this means, general and abstract truth can be expressed in vivid, definite, concrete forms. Familiar, beautiful, and striking objects may be used as expressions of unfamiliar, uninteresting, and commonplace matter, thus contributing to effectiveness, as no literal and abstract word forms could possibly do. This gain is shown by the fact that when the figurative use of a word becomes literal the word loses much of its expressiveness. When the word tribulation ceased to call up the old Roman tribulum, the threshing sledge which separated the wheat from the chaff, it lost both in beauty of suggestion and in the power to express forcibly the truth that afflictions serve to separate the evil and worthless from the good and worthy in the human soul.

1 Phelps' “ English Style."

As already noted, figurative language is language in which the relation between the form and the content of language is varied from established usage. Figure signifies form. A new form of language may be made to stand for the same idea as the established form; or the established form may be used to set forth some idea other than that to which usage has fixed it. In one case the language form is changed; in the other the form of conception associated with the language is changed. In either case it is a change of form, and therefore figurative. At the same time there is a change of relation between form and content. · Since language has both form and content there arise two kinds of figures, — figures of form and figures of content. A change in the form of the language itself is illustrated by the following: “'ghast ”; “Dothe-boys”; “aërial cities of joy and affection and freedom.” In the first example, the first part of the word is omitted; in the second, a word is made for a special purpose out of three others; in the third, more ands are used than the grammatical structure requires. There is no accompanying change in the conception, yet there is increased power of expression. But when Longfellow says, —

" And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,

And as silently steal away," he changes the form of the conception of cares, thinking of them, not as the literal word would require, but as infesting tribes of Arabs, and as imperceptibly

passing away under the charm of music like the tribes folding their tents and stealing away in the darkness.

The change in the form or in the content gives rise to the two classes of figures known as Figures of Speech and Figures of Thought.

So vital is the relation of the form to the content of language that no sharp line of distinction can be drawn between them. Many figures may properly be put in either class. This explains the seeming confusion and contradictions in books treating them. The varieties of each are so great that a complete classification is both impracticable and undesirable. Only the leading ones need be given; enough, however, to explain their nature and use, and thus enable the student, as he reads, to observe them in their manifold variety and to extend his classification as far as he may desire.


A figure of speech is indirect language, since the figurative form expresses its idea through the literal form from which it is made. These figures have little value as compared with figures of thought, yet they deserve a brief treatment. Because formal, they must not be supposed to have no relation to content; for they arise from the free inner impulse of a mind breaking the fetters of an established language form. They are not dead things, formed by external chiselling according to the rules of the rhetorician; but instinct with life, because struck off by the impulse of the soul, which they serve the reader to interpret.

Language as form consists of words and sentences; hence, there may be a change in the form of the word or in the form of the sentence. The first is called a Figure of Spelling, or Etymology; the second, a Figure of Syntax.

Figures of Spelling:1 — Figures of spelling are formed in four ways: (1) by the omission of some part of the word necessary to its correct spelling; (2) by the insertion of some unnecessary part; (3) by the intentional misspelling of words; (4) by the combination of words.

1. The first are classed and named from the part omitted.

Aphaeresis, the taking of a letter or a syllable from the beginning of a word; as, 'ghast for aghast, 'mazed for amazed, 'fore for before, what's for what is, she'll for she will, you 'll for you will, I'm for I am, I'd for I would, thou 'rt for thou art, 'Frisco for San Francisco.

Syncope, the omission of a letter or letters or a syllable from the middle of a word; as, e'er for ever, don't for do not, ne'er for never, ev'ry for every, de'il for devil, sick'd for sickened.

Apocope, the omission of a letter or syllable at the end of a word; as, yond for yonder, Mexic for Mexican, morn for morning, sult for sultry.

2. The other figures of spelling, rarely met with, are formed by prefixing, inserting, or affixing a letter

1 A large and interesting collection of figures may be found in Macbeth's “Might and Mirth of Literature,” from which some of these examples have been taken.

or syllable, called respectively Prosthesis, Epenthesis, and Paragoge.

0 Intentional Misspelling is so prominently employed in the service of wit and humor as to need no illustration. Such tricks with words, however, do not serve the highest grades of wit and humor; and while American humorists have distinguished themselves in this line, they, perhaps, have not done so to their permanent credit.

4. Combination, the forming of a word out of others, to secure greater force or to meet the emergency of some new turn of thought, as in Lowell's “ First Snow Fall,” “the good All-Father.” Some one speaks of the “How-do-you-do-George-my-boy” sort of style, and the “biggest-river-and-tallest-mountain" recipe. Dickens calls, with multiplied effect, Squeers' seminary “Do-the-boys Hall,” for there the boys were done. This figure is frequently used, and contributes to energy of expression.

Figures of Syntax. — Figures of Syntax are deviations from the ordinary construction of words in sentences. These are formed in three ways: (1) by omitting parts necessary to grammatical structure; (2) by the insertion of parts unnecessary to grammatical structure; (3) by the substitution of one grammatical part for another.

1. The first method forms a very common and important figure called Ellipsis. An Ellipsis is the omission of a part necessary to complete the grammatical structure, though not necessary to the meaning. This figure is characteristic of energetic and impas

« PreviousContinue »