Interaction of primary and derivative logical meanings. Stylistic Devices Based on Polysemantic Effect, Zeugma and Pun


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

Epithet is a stylistic device based on the interplay of emotive and logical meanings in an attributive word emotionally colored attitude of the speaker to the object he describes. 1 – refer the mind to the concept due to some quality of the object it is attached to. 2 – attributes used to characterize the object by adding a feature unexpected in it. One of the two members of oxymoron illuminates the feature observed while the other one offers a purely subjective individual perception of the object.



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Основы теории изучаемого языка                                                                         Стилистика английского языка

                                                                 Лекция 8

                                                                                                                                 Lexical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices


Lecture 8

Interaction of primary and derivative logical meanings. Stylistic Devices Based on Polysemantic Effect, Zeugma and Pun

The word is the most changeable of all language units. In the result of the gradual development of the meaning of the word new meanings appear alongside the primary one – derivative meanings. All of them are interconnected with the primary one and create a network – polysemantic effect.

Zeugma is the use of a word in the same grammatical but different semantic relations to two adjacent words in the context, the semantic relations being literal and transferred. Zeugma always creates a humorous effect.

Have a Coke and a smile! “Have” is realized in two different meanings: in the word combination “have a Coke” it’s direct (literal), in “have a smile” it’s transferred.

 Pun – it has a humorous effect which may be based on misinterpretation of the speaker’s utterance by the other or by the result of the speaker’s intended violation of the listener’s expectation.  When are true words – sweet words? When they are candid. Pun is also a play on words of the same sound, it may be based on homonymy, polysemy.

Interaction of logical and emotive meanings (interjections and exclamatory words)

There are words with the function of arousing emotions in the reader. In such words emotiveness prevails over intellectuality. There are also words in which logical meaning is almost entirely lost. These words express feelings which have passed trough out mind. Emotiveness is a category of our minds, feelings are expressed indirectly. That’s why it is natural that some emotive words have become symbols of emotions. Interjections are words which we use to express our feelings strongly and which exist in language in the form of conventional symbols of human emotions. Derivative interjections retain some degree of logical meaning suppressed by emotive one. Hush! Alas! Gosh! These interjections had once their logical meanings and the shades of them are presented. Primary interjections. They don’t have logical meaning.  Oh! Ah! Wow! There are neutral interjections (bah, oh) and colloquial ones (well). Exclamatory words – words that don’t lose their logical meaning and thus function as interjections. Heavens! Look out!

Epithets (semantic and structural classification).

Epithet is a stylistic device based on the interplay of emotive and logical meanings in an attributive word, emotionally colored attitude of the speaker to the object he describes. Semantic class: 1) associated with the noun it refers and 2) unassociated with it. 1 – refer the mind to the concept due to some quality of the object it is attached to. ▲ careful attention. 2 – attributes used to characterize the object by adding a feature unexpected in it. ▲ heart-burning smile. Structurally:


1) simple  2) compound   3) phrase   4) sentence

ordinary adj.   are built like   is shown    is shown by

rosy dreams. comp. adj.    by phrase.  sentence.

blue eyed girl   ▲ The cat had don’t-


-you expression of his face.

An interesting structural detail of phrase and sentence epithets is that they are generally followed by the word or expression, air, attitude and others which describe behaviour or facial expression. In other words, such epithets seem to transcribe into language symbols a communication usually" conveyed by non-linguistic means.

Another structural feature of such phrase epithets is that after the nouns they refer to, there often comes a subordinate attributive clause beginning with that. This attributive clause, as it were, serves the purpose of decoding the effect of the communication. It must be noted that phrase epithets are always hyphenated, thus pointing to the temporary structure of the compound word.

These two structural features have predetermined the functioning of phrase epithets. Practically any phrase or, sentence which deals with the psychological state of a person may serve as an epithet. The phrases and sentences transformed into epithets lose their independence and assume a new quality which is revealed both in the intonation pattern (that of ш attribute) and graphically (by being hyphenated).

It is this do-it-yourself, go-it-alone attitude towards development of the East's river resources." (N. Y. T. Magazine, 19 Oct., 1958.)

"There is a sort of  'Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-

I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler* expression

about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into

the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen." (Jerome K. Jerome,

"Three Men in a Boat")

Another structural variety of epithet is called reversed – two nouns liked in an of-phrase. The evaluating, emotional element is in the noun described. A doll of the baby.



Antonomasia is a stylistic device based on the interplay between the logical and nominal meanings of a word realized simultaneously. It has the purpose of pointing but the leading, most characteristic or important trait of the person or event, pinning it as a proper name of this person or event. Antonomasia categorizes the person and indicates both the general and the particular. It gives us information about the bearer of the name.  Mr. Snake. Antonomasia is mostly created by nouns, seldom by attributive combinations or phrases.

"Among the herd of journals which are published in the States, there are some, the reader scarcely need be told, of character and credit. From-personal intercourse with accomplished gentlemen connected with publications of this class, I have derived both pleasure and profit. But the name of these is Few, and of the other Legion, and the influence of the good is powerless to counteract the mortal poison of the bad. (Dickens)

The use of the word name made the author write the words 'Few', and 'Legion' with capital letters. It is very important to note that this device is mainly realized in, the written language, because generally capital letters are the only signals to denote the presence of the stylistic device.

Oxymoron is a combination of 2 words in which the meanings of the 2 clash, being opposite in sense: terribly beautiful. One of the two members of oxymoron illuminates the feature observed while the other one offers a purely subjective individual perception of the object. In it the primary logical meaning of the adj. or adverb is capable of resisting the power of semantic change which words undergo in combination. It can be realized in several models: adj. + noun, adverb + adj.


In order to understand the linguistic nature of the SDs of this group it is necessary to clear up some problems, so far untouched, of definition  as a philosophical category. Any definition can point out only one or two properties of a phenomenon. Therefore in building up a definition the definer tries to single out the most essential features of the object. These are pinned down by the definer through a long period of observation of the object, its functioning, its growth and its changes.

However, no definition can comprise all the inner qualities of the object and new combinations of it with other objects as well; a deeper penetration into the ontology of the object will always reveal some hitherto unknown qualities and features.

In this group of stylistic devices, which we now come to, we find that one of the qualities of the object in question is made to sound essential. This is an entirely different principle from that on which the second group is based, that of interaction between two lexical meanings simultaneously materialized in the context. In this third group the quality picked out may be seemingly unimportant, it is elevated to the greatest importance.


Things are best of all learned by simile. V. G. Belinsky

The intensification of some one feature of the concept in question is realized in a device called simile. Ordinary comparison and simile must not be confused. They represent two diverse processes. Comparison means weighing two objects belonging to one class of things with the purpose of establishing the degree of their sameness or difference. To use a simile is to characterize one object by bringing it into contact with another object belonging to an entirely different class of things. Comparison takes into consideration all the properties of the two objects, stressing the one that is compared. Simile excludes all the properties of the two objects except one which is made common to them. For example “the boy seems to be as clever as his mother' is ordinary comparison. 'Boy' and “mother” belong to the same class of objects—human beings—so this is not a simile but ordinary comparison.

But in the sentence:

"Maidens, like moths, are ever caught by glare" (Byron)

Similes forcibly set one object against another regardless of the fact that they may be completely alien to each other. And without our being aware of it, the simile gives rise to a new understanding of the object characterizing as well as of the object characterized.

The properties of an object may be viewed from different angles, for example, its state, actions, manners, etc.

"It was that moment of the year when the countryside seems to faint from its own loveliness, from the intoxication of its scents and sounds." (J. Galsworthy)

This is an example of a simile which is half a metaphor. If not for the structural word 'seems', we would call it a metaphor. Indeed, if we drop the word 'seems* and say, "the countryside faints from...," the clue-word 'faint' becomes a metaphor. But the word 'seems' keeps apart the notions of stillness and fainting.

In the English language there is a long list of hackneyed similes pointing out the analogy between the various qualities, states or actions of a human being and the animals supposed to be the bearers of the given quality, etc,, for example:

treacherous as a snake, sly as a fox, busy as a bee, industrious as an -ant, blind as a bat, faithful as a dog, to work like a horse, to be led like a sheep, to fly like a bird, to swim like a duck, stubborn as a mule, hungry as a bear, thirsty as a camel, to act like a puppy, playful as a kitten, vain (proud) as a peacock, slow as a tortoise and many others of the same type.


Periphrasis is a device which, according to Webster's dictionary, denotes the use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter and plainer form of expression. It is also called circumlocution due to the round-about or indirect way used to name a familiar object or phenomenon.

This device has a long history. It was widely used in the Bible and in Homer's Iliad. As a poetic device it was very popular in Latin poetry (Virgil). Due to this influence it became an important feature of epic and descriptive poetry throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. It is due to this practice of renaming things that periphrasis became one of the most favored devices in the 17th and 18th centuries giving birth even to a special trend in literature in France and other countries called periphrastic. There exists in English a whole battery of phrases which are still used as periphrastic synonyms (see below) for ordinary denominations of things and phenomena.

Periphrasis makes the reader perceive the new appellation against the background of the one existing in the language code and the twofold simultaneous perception secures the stylistic effect. At the same time periphrasis, like simile, has a certain cognitive function inasmuch as it deepens our knowledge of the phenomenon described. The essence of the device is that it is decipherable only in context. If a periphrastic locution is understandable outside the context, it is not a stylistic device but merely a synonymous expression. Such easily decipherable periphrases are also called traditional, dictionary or language periphrases. The others are speech periphrases. Here are some examples of well-known dictionary periphrases (periphrastic synonyms):

the cap and gown (student body); a gentleman of the long robe (a lawyer); the fair sex (women); my better half (my wife).

Most periphrastic synonyms are strongly associated with the sphere of their application and the epoch they were used in. Feudalism, for example, gave birth to a cluster of periphrastic synonyms of the word king, as: the leader of hosts; the giver of rings; the protector of earls; the victor lord. A play of swords meant 'a battle'; a battle-seat was 'a saddle'; a shield-bearer was 'a warrior'.

Traditional, language or dictionary periphrases and the words they stand for are synonyms by nature, the periphrasis being expressed by a word-combination. Periphrasis as a stylistic device is a new, genuine nomination of an object, a process which realizes the power of language to coin new names for objects by disclosing some quality of the object, even though it may be transitory, and making it alone represent the object, Here are some such stylistic periphrases:

"I understand you are poor, and wish to earn money by nursing the little boy, my son, who has been so prematurely deprived of what can never ^be replaced." (Dickens)

The object clause 'what can never be replaced' is a periphrasis for the word mother. The concept is easily understood by the reader within the given context, the latter being the only code which makes the deciphering of the phrase possible.


There is a variety of periphrasis which we shall call euphemistic.

Euphemism, as is known, is a word or phrase used to replace an unpleasant word or expression by a conventionally more acceptable one, for example, the word 'to die' has bred the following euphemisms: to pass away, to expire, to be no more, to depart, to join the majority, to be gone, and the more facetious ones: to kick the bucket, to give up the ghost, to go west. So euphemisms are synonyms which aim at producing a deliberately mild effect.

The origin of the term 'euphemism' discloses the aim of the device very clearly, i.e. speaking well (from Greek—eu = well + -pheme = speaking). In the vocabulary of any language, synonyms can be found that soften an otherwise coarse or unpleasant idea. Euphemism is sometimes figuratively called "a whitewashing device".. The linguistic peculiarity of euphemism lies in the fact that every euphemism must call up a definite synonym in the mind of the reader or listener. This synonym, or dominant in a group of synonyms, as it is often called, must follow the euphemism like a shadow, as 'to possess a vivid imagination', or 'to tell stories' in the proper context will call up the unpleasant verb to lie. The euphemistic synonyms given above are part of the language-as-a-system. They have not been freshly invented. They are expressive means of the language and are to be found in all good dictionaries. They cannot be regarded as stylistic devices because they do not call to mind the keyword or dominant of the group; in other words, they refer the mind to the concept directly, not through the medium of another word. Compare these euphemisms with the following from Dickens's "Pickwick Papers": "They think we have come by this horse in some dishonest manner"

The italicized parts call forth the word 'steal' (have stolen it).

Euphemisms may be divided into several groups according to their spheres of application. The most recognized are the following: 1) religious, 2) moral, 3) medical and 4) parliamentary.

The life of euphemisms is short. They very soon become closely associated with the referent (the object named) and give way to a newly-coined word or combination of words, which, being the sign of a sign, throws another veil over an unpleasant or indelicate concept.


Another SD which also has the function of intensifying one certain property of the object described is h у p e r b о l e. It can be defined as a deliberate overstatement or exaggeration of a feature essential (unlike periphrasis) to the object or phenomenon. In its extreme form this exaggeration is carried to an illogical degree, sometimes ad absurdum. For example:

"He was so tall that I was not sure he had a face." (O. Henry)

Like many stylistic devices, hyperbole may lose its quality as a stylistic device through frequent repetition and become a unit of the language-as-a-system, reproduced -in speech in its unaltered form. Here are some examples of language hyperbole:

“A thousand pardons'; 'scared to death, 'immensely obliged;' 'I'd give the world to see him.'

Hyperbole differs from mere exaggeration in that it is intended to be understood as an exaggeration. In this connection the following quotations deserve a passing note:

"Hyperbole is the result of a kind of intoxication by emotion, which prevents a person from seeing things in their true dimensions... If the reader (listener) is not carried away by the emotion of the writer (speaker), hyperbole becomes a mere lie."

Hyperbole is a device which sharpens the reader's ability to make a logical assessment of the utterance. This is achieved, as is the case with other devices, by awakening the dichotomy of thought and feeling where thought takes the upper hand though not to the detriment of feeling.


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