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The offences against brevity considered...Part II. Pleonism.
sidered as a kind of expletive, since, we cannot assign to it a separate sense.
Nevertheless it is no pleonasın ; for though it is not easy to define in words the import of such terms, yet if the omission of them make the expression appear either stiff or defective, they are not to be regarded as useless.
LASTLY, I shall observe on this subject, that as there are some single words, which have I know not what air of tautology, there are some also which have a pleonastic appearance. Such are the following, unto, until, selfsame, foursquare, devoid, despoil, disannul, oftentimes, nowadays, downfall, furthermore, wherewithall; for to, till, same, square, void, spoil, annul, often, now, fall, further, wherewith.' The use of such terms many writers have been led into, partly from the dislike of monosyllables, partly from the love of variety. The last end it hardly answers, as the simple word is still included; and as to the first, I am persuaded that this dislike hath carried some modern writers to the other extreme, and, I imagine, the worse extreme of the two. It hath proceeded on an opinion, which I shall afterwards evince to be erroneous, that a frequent recurrence of monosyllables is inconsistent with harmony. However, with regard to the words specified, it would not be right to preclude entirely the use of them in poetry, where the shackles of metre render variety more necessary; but they ought to be used very sparingly, if at all, in prose.
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
It is worth while to remark, that the addition of a short syllable to the termination of a word, when that syllable hath no separate signification, doth not exhibit the appearance of a pleonasm, which any syllable prefixed, or a long one added, never fails to exhibit. Thus mountain, fountain, meadow, valley, island, climate, are as good as mount, fount, mead, vale, isle, clime, and in many cases preferable. Indeed the words fount, mead, vale, and clime, are now almost confined to poetry. Several adjectives may in like manner be lengthened by the addition of an unaccented syllable, as ecclestical, astronomical, philosophical, grammatical, from ecclesiastic, astronomic, philosophic, grammatic ; in all which, if the choice be not a matter of absolute indifference, it may at least be determined by the slightest consideration of variety or of sound. Sometimes custom insensibly assigns different meanings to such different formations, as in the words comic and comical, tragic and tragical, politic and political. Though the words here coupled were at first equally synonymous with those before mentioned, they are not entirely so at present. Tragic denotes belonging to tragedy; tragical, resembling tragedy. The like holds of comic and comical.
“ the tragic muse, the comic muse;" and a tragic poet,” for a writer of tragedy, a comic poet,” for a writer of comedy ; but“ I heard a tragical story," for a mournful story, and “ I met with
a comical adventure," for a droll adventure. We say, a politic man,” for an artful fellow; but a po
The osseuces against brevity considered...Part II. Pleonism.
litical writer, for a writer on politics. There is not, however, a perfect uniformity in such applications, for we constantly use the phrase “ the body politic," and not political, for the civil society. On the whole, however, it would seem that what is affixed, especially when unaccented, is conceived as more closely, united to the word, than what is prefixed is conceived to be. In this last case the supernumerary syllable, if it make no change on the signification, always conveys the notion of an expletive, which is not suggested in the first.
But before I quit this subject, it will not be beside the purpose to observe, that there are cases in which a certain species of pleonasm may not only be pardonable, but even have a degree of merit. It is at least entitled to indulgence, when it serves to express a pertinent earnestness of affirmation on an interesting subject, as in phrases like these, “ We have seen with our eyes,” “ we have heard with our ears," which perhaps are to be found in every language *. Again, in poetical description, where the fancy is addressed, epithets which would otherwise be accounted superfluous, if used moderately, are not without effect. The axnre heaven, the silver moon, the blushing morn, the seagirt isle. Homer abounds in such. They often occur also in sacred writ. The warm manner of the ancient Orientals, even in their prose-compositions,
Vocemque his auribus hausi. Vidi ante oculos ipse meos,
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
holds much more of poesy, than the cold prosaic diction of us moderns and Europeans. A stroke of the pencil, if I may so express myself, is almost always added to the arbitrary sign, in order the more strongly to attach the imagination. Hence it is not with them, the beasts, the birds, the fish, the heaven, and the earth ; but the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the heaven above, and the earth beneath. But though in certain cases there is some ịndulgence given to terms which may properly be styled pleonastic, I scarce think that an epithet which is merely tautological, is 'in any case tolerable.
The third and last fault I shall mention against a vivid conciseness is verbosity. This it may be thought coincides with the pleonasm already discussed. One difference however is this; in the pleonasm there are words which add nothing to the sense, in the verbose manner, not only simple words, but whole clauses, may have a meaning, and yet it were better to omit them, because what they mean is unimportant. Instead, therefore, of enlivening the expression, they make it languish. Another difference is, that in a proper pleonasm, a complete correction is always made by razing. This will not always answer in the verbose style ; it is often necessary to alter as well as blot.
The offences against brevity considered....Part III. Verbosity.
It will not be improper here further to observe, that by verbosity I do not mean the same thing which the French express by the word verbiage, as some persons, misled by etymology, may be inclined to think. By this term is commonly understood a parade of fine words, plausibly strung together, so as either to conceal a total want of meaning, or to disguise something weak and inconclusive in the reasoning. The former, with which alone we are here concerned, is merely an offence against vivacity, the latter is more properly a transgression of the laws of
ONE instance of a faulty exuberance of words is the intemperate use of circumlocution. There are circumstances wherein this figure is allowable ; there are circumstances wherein it is a beauty, there are circunstances wherein it is a blemish. We indulge it often for the sake of variety, as when, instead of the women, an author says the fair sex, or when, instead of the sun, a poet puts the lamp of day ; we choose it for the sake of decency, to serve as a sort of veil to what ought not to be too nakedly exposed, or for the sake of avoiding an expression that might probably offend *. Sometimes indeed propriety requires the use of circumlocution, as when Milton says of Satan, who had been thrown down headlong into hell,
* See Book III. Chap. I. Sect. II. Part III.