First and Last Words: Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn

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First and Last Words: Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:16 pm

aaa
I am a bit under the weather this morning, so what better way to rest up for the holiday shopping ahead than to spend some time reading a short book? I quickly skimmed through the (thinner) unread books on my bookshelves, and there are many, which I had bought in bursts of enthusiasm but never had gotten around to reading, nor am I likely to with the limited stay allotted to us on this earth.

And my choice was a slip of a book, only 102 pages long and titled Figures of Speech (1982) by Arthur Quinn, late Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. I had bought it sometime in 1980s and the pages were yellow and crisp (cheap paper) and they all wanted to remain together perpendicular to the binding. So, I had to spend a bit of time going through and flattening pages two by two so that I could read it in my reclining chair with one hand without it snapping shut while I petted my sleeping cat lying on my chest (let sleeping cats lie) with the other.

Naturally, I didn’t finish the book – I will someday – but I read and skimmed enough to realize that it was good. In it, oodles of figures of speech are discussed with very nice explanations and comments, as well as copious quotes from well-known authors.

Also provided were the names of various figures of speech (64 of them) along with a page-or-two discussion on each. I was familiar with only the names and form of a handful (e.g. chiasmus, metaphor, metonymy, simile, synecdoche, . . .). However, I think many of us are familiar with most of the usages without knowing their names and general structure. However, I do find it icing on the cake to understand the forms.

In looking through the glossary of the 64 said figures of speech, I noticed that the list began with abusio (misuse of words as in the use of the wrong word for the context or the use of a forced figure of speech, especially one that involves or seems to involve strong paradox as in blind mouths and ended with zeugma (zeugma).

Over the years, I had always heard that the first word in the dictionary was aardvark and the last zymurgy and I thought I would do a check to see if that is still the case.

After examining several dictionaries, and they do not all agree, it appears to me that the honest-to-goodness first and last words (excluding abbreviations, proper nouns, words with spaces (e.g. à la), and plurals) are a (a dog, a house) and zymurgy. And as a bonus, the second and next to last words are aah (the interjection, noun and verb) and zymosis (fermentation, infection).

The American Heritage Dictionary gives the last word as Zyzzyva (tropical American weevils of the genus Zyzzyva, often destructive to plants). But that’s a proper noun and they don’t count.

There is a section in The Week magazine titled Boring but Important. And I’ll let you decide for yourself if that’s true of this posting or if it’s only the former. (>:)
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Ken G – December 19, 2011

Note: Edwin’s post, below, provides a correction for the second word in the dictionary.
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Re: First and Last Words: Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Dec 20, 2011 1:26 am

Some dictionaries would probably list 'à' second, as a main entry.

I'm surprised you didn't turn up aa, Ken, a word very well known amongst Scrabble players. Geologists would know it too - it means a dry, cindery form of lava, as distinct from the freer-flowing, ropy form (pahoehoe) - though I bet there are the usual in-between problem cases for the classifiers. There also seems to be a third type of basaltic lava with the outlandish name pillow lava.

Your book sounds better than most of what's being offered on TV over here this Christmas.
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Re: First and Last Words: Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:52 am

aaa
Edwin, You’re right about aa. Thanks for the correction. American Heritage Dictionary doesn’t list it. The Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary lists it as a'a and a•a. However Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary do list it as a type of lava. So, that makes a first, aa second, and aah third. For fourth I found aal, an Indian mulberry bush and the dye obtained from this plant. And for fifth aandblom, a fragrant white flower of South Africa.
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Ken – December 19, 2011
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