Thursday, January 14, 2010


I'm generally not one to get alarmed about the misuse of language. Descent from high moral ground can be a very rocky road.

Kay would fulminate about folks' saying "hopefully" in place of "I hope," then turn around and ask me if  I didn't think a speaker we'd heard recently was "the pentultimate scholar."  She believed this word (up until then a favorite of hers) was not in the dictionary because it was simply too rare. When I suggested she take out the first "t" and look it up again, she was contrite and, for a time, cut down on complaining to me about the atrocities of usage among the hoi polloi.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself spontaneously using a chiasmus in a note to Kathy:  "I realize you're alluding to Refuge  (like, the book by T.T. Williams) as memoir as well as talking about memoir (by YOU) as refuge. HEY -- it's a chiasmus, my super-fave rhetorical device!" Granted, the chiasmus is easier to spot without the parenthetical expressions.

Catching myself in a chiasmus was, frankly, a thrill, but it reminded me of how I get perturbed over the hoi polloi's lack of respect for rhetoric -- the word and the tradition.

Consulting Google Books, I'm happy to see that Edward P.J. Corbett's Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student is available in its 4th edition. It must have been the 2nd edition (1971) that I stumbled upon in graduate school.

If demand for CRMS continues (at $60 and change from Amazon), students somewhere must be learning that rhetoric can be something other than packs of lies. This is good news.

I'm going to look around for my copy of Corbett's book. It would be fun to work up some litotes.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License