Posts Tagged ‘stylistics’


August 12, 2017

meFirst I found it hard to define what stylistic device was used to create a humorous effect in the jokes that follow. It looked like the closest was onomatopoeia – making words based on sound imitation. However, the term onomatopoeia is mostly applied when it goes about animal noises such as “oink”, “meow”, “roar,” or sounds produced by inanimate objects (a clock – “tick-tock,” a car horn – “beep-beep,” an engine – “vroom,” etc.) In our case, the comic effect is achieved when a reader of the jokes is simultaneously listening to the texts as they are being read, or at least, is reproducing in his sound memory the aural form of word combinations which stand behind the geographical names. Thus, the humor is based on the cooperation of orthography and phonetics, which can be termed as ortho-phonics. I’m sort of proud (:-)) having invented a new linguistic term. Another “innovation” is the verb “to geography” (pronounced “ji-‘o-gre-fai). It’s a nonce word invented only for this particular occasion, and it means to ‘cram the text with geographical names.’ Its logical derivative is “to un-geography.” What the nonce terms are about, the reader may see from the following:


Waitress: Hawaii mister? You must be Hungary?
Gent: Yes, Siam. And I can’t Rumania long either. Venice lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll Russia table. What’ll you Havre? Aix?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t Jamaica cook step on the Gaza bit?
Waitress: Odessa laugh! But Alaska.
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a Cuba sugar in my Java.
Waitress: Don’t you be Sicily, big boy. Sweden it yourself. I’m only here to
Gent: Denmark my check and call the Bosphorus. I hope he’ll Kenya! I don’t
Bolivia know who I am!
Waitress: Canada noise! i don’t Carribean. You sure Ararat!
Gent: Samoa your wisecracks? What’s got India? D’you think this arguing Alps
business? Why be so Chile? Be Nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t Kyiv me that Boulogne! Spain in the neck!
Pay your Czech. Abyssinia!

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my France.



Waitress: How are you, mister? You must be hungry
Gent: Yes, I am. And I can’t remain long either. When is lunch ready?
Waitress: I’ll rush the table. What’ll you have? Eggs?
Gent: Whatever’s ready. But can’t you make the cook step on the gas a bit?
Waitress: Oh, this is a laugh! But I’ll ask her!
Gent: Don’t do me favors. Just put a cube of sugar in my java.
Waitress: Don’t you be so silly, big boy. Sweeten it yourself. I’m only here to
serve you.
Gent: Then mark my check and call the boss for us. I hope he’ll cane you! I don’t
believe you know who I am!
Waitress: Kind of nice! i don’t care a bean. You sure are a rat!
Gent: Some of you are wisecracks? What’s got in you? D’you think this arguing helps 
business? Why be so chilly? Be nice!
Waitress: Attu! Don’t give me that bull on! It’s pain in the neck!
Pay your check, I’ll be seeing you

Gent (to himself): I’ll come back with my friends.



Oh, what did
boys, what did Tenna-see? (Tennessee)
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
Oh, what did Tenna-see, boys, what did Tenna-see?
I ask you men, as a personal friend,
What did Tenna-see?

She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw. (Arkansas)
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
She saw what Arkin-saw, boys, she saw what Arkin-saw
I’ll tell you then, as a personal friend,
She saw what Arkin-saw.
Where has Ora-gone, boys? (Oregon)
She’s taking Okla-home, boys. (Oklahoma)
How did Wiscon-sin, boys? (Wisconsin)
She stole a New-brass-key, boys. (Nebraska)
What did Della-wear, boys? (Delaware)
She wore a New Jersey, boys. (New Jersey)
What did Io-weigh, boys? (Iowa)
She weighed a Washing-ton, boys. (Washington)
Where did Ida-hoe, boys? (Idaho)
She hoed in Merry-land, boys. (Maryland)
What did Missy-sip, boys? (Mississippi)
She sipped her Mini-soda, boys. (Minnesota)
What did Connie-cut, boys? (Connecticut)
She cut her shaggy Mane, boys. (Maine)
What did Ohi-owe, boys? (Ohio)
She owed her Taxes, boys, (Texas)
How did Flora-die, boys? (Florida)
She died of Misery, boys. (Missouri)


July 23, 2017

1960s BABY WEARING GLASSES LOOKING FOR A WORD IN BIG DICTIONARY (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

The word connotation (from Medieval Latin connotare) was first registered in English in 1530. Com/con means “with” and “notare” stands for “to mark.” As such, the word meant to signify in addition to the main meaning. The character of a connotation may be best seen from the following two examples:

1.What is the difference between walk, run, spurt and amble? All the words have at least two components in common: 1) to move and 2) by taking steps. The components which make the words different are: at normal speed (walk), at high speed (run), at high speed and with a sudden increase in speed (spurt) and slowly/leisurely (amble).

2.What is the difference between retire, leave and split? No difference in literal (denotational) meaning. The meaning is the same: to go away. The words are contrasted by how formal/informal they are. Retire is formal (the guests retired to their respective rooms), leave is neutral (no one was allowed to leave the room), and split is labeled in dictionaries as slang (a mobster who suddenly split town).

The difference of the second type is called connotational. Connotations are not explicitly seen in words, but are identified from contexts and situations in which they are used. Linguistic connotations are marked in dictionaries by such characteristics as archaic, obsolete, poetic, informal, colloquial, slang, jargon, etc. However, very often connotations (also called overtones) are personal, even when they are shared by large groups of people. So, for many people, bus has such connotations as cheapness and convenience; for others, discomfort or inconvenience; for many children it connotes school, and for many American adults it has a political overtone (because of the 1960s policy in the USA of bussing children to school as a means of promoting social integration in ethnically divided urban communities).

When a word is highly charged with connotations, we commonly refer to it as loaded. The language of politics and religion is full of such loaded expressions: capitalist, fascist, radical, liberal, bureaucracy, democracy, dogma, pagan, orthodox, sect, fundamentalist. The language of science and law, on the other hand, attempts (not always successfully), to avoid vocabulary which is connotative. In general, the more a domain or topic is controversial, the more it will contain loaded vocabulary, providing people with lexical ammunition they need to reinforce their point of view.

In 1948, the philosopher Bertrand Russell cited some examples of what he called “emotive conjugation” on the BBC radio program The Brains Trust. The scholar illustrated people’s tendency to describe their own behavior more charitably than the behavior of others. He said that our estimation of the same human qualities correlates with the conjugation of the irregular verb “to be”:

I am firm, you are obstinate, he is pig-headed // I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing // I have recognized the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.

In the 1980s, this biased evaluative approach was employed by Bernard Woolley, a protagonist of the British sitcom Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister.

It’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it?
I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist.

That’s another of those irregular verbs, isn’t it?
I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he’s being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act. 

The idea prompted the British periodical, The New Statesman, to set a competition for its readers. Here are some of the published entries:

I am sparkling, you are unusually talkative, he is drunk // I am a creative writer, you are a journalistic flair, he is a prosperous hack // I daydream, you are an escapist, he ought to have a psychiatrist.

Many other triplets could be devised: slender, thin, skinny // frank, blunt, insolent // overweight, plump, fat …

That’s what connotations are mainly about…


July 22, 2017

2017-07-22Dylan ThomasA stylistic impact of a literary text is often achieved through a deliberate breaking of collocational conventions (see my previous blog). Dylan Thomas was a poet who relied on this device, also called defeated expectancy, to create a poetic effect. The predictability of collocations, as they are used in common speech, was violated by Dylan Thomas again and again. This can be vividly seen at the beginning of his poem After the Funeral, which he wrote in 1939, after his aunt’s death.

After the funeral, mule praises, brays,
Windshake of sailshaped ears, muffle-toed tap
Tap happily of one peg in the thick
Grave’s foot, blinds down the lids, the teeth in black,
The spittled eyes, the salt ponds in the sleeves,
Morning smack of the spade that wakes up sleep,
Shakes a desolate boy who slits his throat
In the dark of the coffin and sheds dry leaves,
That breaks one bone to light with a judgment clout’

The poet expresses contempt for hypocritical mourners, calling their funeral speeches mule praises, and those mule-like attendees have sail-shaped ears, and they walk muffle-toed to keep up with the atmosphere of the funeral, and they are happy to hear a nail being driven into the coffin (tap happily of peg in the thick grave’s foot/=coffin) because it’s not them who are being buried but someone else. They wet their eyes with their own saliva to create the impression that they are crying, they cast their gazes demurely down (blinds down the (eye)-lids) and wear black veils as a token of mourning (the teeth in black), and pretend to wipe away tears with their sleeves (salt ponds in the sleeves).

Compare the above phrases to what is used in mundane speech:

mules bray (but not praise), objects can be sail-shaped (even buildings, like the famous hotel Jumeriah in Dubai) but hardly the same can be said about ears, muffle-hooved may be used all right (the sand muffled the hoof-leaps), but usually not muffle-toed, thick may be sooner linked with sauce or soup (though we understand that the grave may also be thick with earth that fills the pit), the blinds are down on windows, not on eye-lids and the black is worn on faces, not on teeth. The salt ponds are found in deserts, not in sleeves.

Of course, there’s more to the analysis of the poem than just going through broken collocations. In the quoted stanza at least two biblical images may be traced: spittled eyes (contrasted with “Having said these things, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes” in John 9:6), and a judgmental “clout” of the boy, who is  Dylan Thomas’s second self. The matter is that, according to the Christian doctrine, it’s sinful to make a judgment about one’s close and own, so the boy’s negative reminiscence of his aunt (“a judgment clout”), which “breaks one bone to light”,  bars her from her heavenly destination (not one of Jesus’s bones was broken during the crucifixion, verifying that his death was sacrificial).

Those interested in how Dylan Thomas himself reads the poem, may be referred to

Incidentally, those who read Russian may compare the original poem with Vasiliy Bataka’s translation. I must admit that my interpretation does not completely coincide with how the translator understands the poem. Anyway, probably herein lies the charm of poetry. It’s always PERSONAL…

После похорон    После похорон похвалы – бесплоднее мулов, которые //  Хлопают ушами, как паруса на ветру.  // По новому столбику кладбищенского забора // –  Самодовольный стук. Глаза притворно мокры,  // И солоны рукава, а ресницы – как шторы…  // Утренний чвяк лопат отчаяньем сотрясает  // Мальчика, который перерезает себе глотку тем,  // Что над тьмой могилы сыплет сухими листами  // Стихов. Но разве что одну незаметную косточку  //  выведет он этим к спасенью, когда  // Молоток Судии, и колокольчик Страшного Суда  // Возвестят приговор.

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