Gordian Plot

(1) the NUMBER of words

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The time-relation of the sentence requires the words to be as few as possible ; the truth-relation demands a sufficient number to explicate clearly the idea. The general law being, therefore, to use as few words as will adequately express the idea, we have only to con¬sider the ways in which the law is most commonly vi¬olated. They are three : (1) by the repetition of the same sew, in different words, or TAUTOLOGY; (2) by additions ikot necessary to the sense, or REDUNDANCY; and (3) 133 a diffuse mode of expression which may be recast into a. briefer form, or CIRCUMLOCUTION. That these three cases involve an unnecessary expenditure of interpreting power, is self-evident. That they are se¬rious pitfalls to intelligent writers, is evident from the instances folind in the works of the greatest masters of sty'.41. As 'lope has said : Wordr are but leaves, and where they most abound !Saab ruit of sense beneath is rarely found."

1. Tautology.

A biographer of Dr. Johnson's, among other in¬stances of "desperate tautology," quotes the familiar lines from the imitation of Juvenal : "Let observation, with extensive view, Survey mankind from China to Peru;" and maintains, not unjustly, that this is equivalent to, "Let observation with extensive observation observe mankind extensively." This hardly surpasses the in¬stance of tautology in Addison's Cato: "The dawn is overcast, the morning lowers, And heavily in clouds brings in the day, The great, the important day, big with the fate Of Cato and of Rome." Dr. Whately thinks that the lack of comprehensive powers in the hearer or reader and the abstruseness of the idea may sometimes justify repetition. He says : "It is remarked by anatomists, that the nutritive quality is not the only requisite in food ; that a certain degree of distention of the stomach is required, to enable it to act with its full powers, and that it is for this reason hay or straw must be given to horses, as well as corn, in order to supply the necessary bulk."* This illustration is both just and ingenious, but it is clear that this " distention " does not require the repetition so much as the analytical and progressive presentation of an idea. If a proposition is skillfully divided into minor ones, and the main truth is tin¬!olded by easy gradations, and each increment of the total idea is presented in a perfectly clear manner, there may be sufficient distention without much repetition.

2. Redundancy.

Redundancy has no excuse: A word which does not contribute to unfold the meaning increases uselessly the friction of the interpreting machinery. Thus Addison says, "If he happens to have any leisure upon his /Janda." Here "upon his hands" is not only un¬necessary, but even suggests a ludicrous idea to one who thinks of "leisure upon the hands." The most common forms of redundancy are those in which the expletives "there " and " being " are used ; as, " There is no one who can," for "No one can ; " and "Being convinced of this," for "Convinced of this." The use of epithets is a common form of redun¬dancy. In speaking of any thing which has a particular color as an essential attribute, as snow, it is an offense to the intelligence to say the "white snow." "In poetry," says Aristotle, "it is becoming enough to say, white milk ;' in prose, however, it is rather bad taste." * When an object may have one of several colors, distinctness may be given to the image by speci¬fying the colord. Any important characteristic or action may be brought to view by a well chosen epithet. Thus in the lines, "The wheeling plover ceased Her plaint," "wheeling" presents a peculiar motion of the plover, and also suggests a more beautiful idea than of a bird at rest.

  • Rhetoric, Book III, Chap. iii. § 3.

.1 According to Whatedy, (Rhetoric, Part III, Chap. ii. § 4 such a word would not be an epithet. His sense is peculiar. Frigidity is the result of a too frequent use of opi theta. Aristotle says of Alcidamus, that his writings appear frigid "because he employs epithets not as the seasoning but as the food." He does not say the sweat, but the moist sweat, nor that he covered his person, but the nakedness of his person.

3. Circumlocution.

Circumlocution is the result of indistinctness or timidity of thought. So good a writer as Lord Brougham has written this vaporous sentence : "Among the eminent men who figured in the eventful history of the French Revolution was M. Talleyrand ; and whether in that scene, or in any portion of modern annals, we shall in vain look fo, one who represents a more interesting subject of history." In addition to beating out the sense to the thinnes: possible film, his lordship makes Talleyrand figure in the history instead of the scene, then confounds scene and annals, and, finally, tells us that Talleyrand repre¬sents an interesting subject of history. The idea may be more clearly expressed in twenty-four instead of forty-four words : Among the eminent characters of the French Rev¬olution was M. Talleyrand, and, in modern times, we shall find no more interesting subject of history. Circumlocution is often employed to express deli¬cately, and hence vaguely, what one does not wish to say plainly. It is in thin case an ingenious rhetorical device, but cannot be regarded as a legitimate facto' of a good style.

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