Monday Metaphors: Puns Take off

Puns and take offs crack me up. They’re everywhere. It seems that we’re hardwired to make the associations of pictures or words or sounds or whatever that lead right into the take off. Comics who do the funny papers are especially adept at puns and take offs, and they do it in the most succinct manner and often simply visually. This is why my newspaper is all cut up.

Here are some of my favorites:

Hi and Lois. Cell phone rings. Boy one: Another message from Maggie? Second boy: She sends them all day; she’s my “tweet-heart.”

Mother Goose and Grim. Two vampires sitting in a bar. One says: I’ll meet you tonight at high moon.

Pickles. Kid: Where are you going, Grampa? Grampa: I’m going on a jabberwalky. Kid: what’s a jabberwalky? Last frame: Grampa has to listen to Gramma jabbering endlessly.

Frank and Ernest. Frank and Ernest are snorkeling and come upon a sign: “Welcome to Atlan tis”   Lying on the ocean floor is a letter “N”.  Frank says, “Look, Ernie! It’s the lost consonant of Atlantis!”

Message on t-shirt: Dijon Vu; the same mustard as before

Another t-shirt: Relish Today. Ketchup Tomorrow.

Cosmetics commercial:  “See spots run.”

Can you hear Meow? A takeoff on the commercial: Can you hear me now?

Gator Raid = a picture on the wall of a restaurant in Gainesville, FL, of the Gator football team whomping another team.

For swine flu you need oinkment. For bird flu you need tweetment.

Jessica, my granddaughter, and I were talking about the magazine Scientific American. I asked her if she knew anything about “quarks.” She said, “It’s a quarky world we live in.” August 18, 2011

Book titles are good sources for puns

Lucienne Diver’s book is titled Fangtastic

Peter E. Abresch’s book is titled The Faltese Malcom

Graeme Smith’s book is titled Comedy of Terrors

Bennett W. Goodspeed wrote: The Tao Jones Averages: a Guide to Whole-Brained Investing  

In The Weaver by Kia Strand  (Ch. 11) Abigail Wordsmith says, “Good morning eager weavers.”

James Joyce’s biographer says of Ulysses: Much of the wordplay in the book stems from the use of multilingual puns. . .

I haven’t read this book by John Pollack, but I hope to some day: The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics.

This last is an exchange between two writers whom I admire:

July 8, 2011

Carolyn Howard-Johnson responded to a post on Virginia Grenier’s blog, The Writing Mama

 (the blog was about fractured fairy tales):

Virginia, I think a little wackiness helps with writers stress (it’s a little like writers’ block!). I always end my Sharing with Writers newsletter with a pun. They fit because puns are considered one of the highest forms of language and my readers are all authors–that is they–by definition–have to work with language.

Best, Carolyn

I agree with Carolyn that puns are an elevated form of language. My own story, “Gum-Fight at the Circle K Quick Stop,” is a take-off on the famous gun fight at the OK Corral.

Sharing the Love of Words

I’m so happy to welcome my fellow-writers to join me in the expression of our love of words and language. Nancy Steward and Janet Ann Collins have picture books published by Guardian Angel Publishing and Barbara Ehrentreu’s young adult novel is with MuseItUp Publishing in the MuseItYoung imprint. You can see by the name of Jan’s blog, “Onwords,” that she enjoys playing with words and her linguistic abilities come out in all sorts of way. Holly is a real-life friend of mine who is a member of the same SCBWI critique group that I am. She has a fantastic fantastical imagination. Thanks, Janet Ann, for posing the question.

I think my love of words goes back to before I could read. My Aunt Martha kept me while my mother was a work. She had a large store of fairy tales that she would entertain me with. She used voices and facial expressions to go with the characters and kept me spellbound on cold winter days when it was too cold for me to go outside to play. Then when I learned to read, I carried books around the house because I loved them too much to put down. My favorite was The Bumper Book, which is an omnibus of different things, like stories, alphabet and counting rhymes, and poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

The arrangement of words is endless. And that is one of the fascinations with them. But words are also important, and not just for communicating. This line is from the movie Arabian Nights: “People need stories more than bread itself. They show them how to live and why.” But we wouldn’t listen to stories if they weren’t intriguingly told, the storyteller pulling words like magic from an imaginary hat.

I have pages and pages of quotes that I’ve copied from books and other places. Sometimes the language is so beautifully put together that I want to be able to recapture the phrase at my leisure.

I love words with a lyrical quality and words that evoke images and emotions.

Here is an example from a kids’ book, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown by Sydney Taylor. The ten-year-old girl who is speaking is looking forward to getting a nice birthday present from her uncle. “Snuggling back under the blanket, she hugged her happiness to her.”

I know there are other writers who can express the love of words better than I can. Let’s take Aldous Huxley for example. (Maybe this isn’t exactly the love of words, but it is  These words come from John, the savage boy, after he discovers Shakespeare on p. 89 of Brave New World: “He hated Pope more and more. A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. What did the words exactly mean. H only half knew. But their magic was strong and went on rumbling in his head, and somehow it was as though he had never really hated Pope before; never really hated ; he had never been able to say how much he hated him. But now he had these words, these words like drums and singing and magic. These words and the strange, strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make hear or tail of it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same)—they gave him a reason for hating Pope; and they made his hatred more real; they even made Pope himself more real.”

I think this why people say facts are just what’s there, but fiction is truth. In books, there’s a collaboration between writer and reader that creates the peoples and the situations.

I love puns and you can be sure I will do a Monday Metaphor blog on them soon. I think punning is something that is used by the majority of people. Jokes are quite often built on a pun and perhaps that is why some people think of them as a low form of humor. Other people think they are a clever use of the language. I’m in the second camp.

I know there are other writers who can express the love of words better than I can. Let’s take Aldous Huxley for example. These words are expressed by John, the savage boy, after he discovers Shakespeare on p. 89 of Brave New World: “He hated Popeˊ more and more. A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. What did the words exactly mean. H only half knew. But their magic was strong and went on rumbling in his head, and somehow it was as though he had never really hated Popeˊ before; never really hated ; he had never been able to say how much he hated him. But now he had these words, these words like drums and singing and magic. These words and the strange, strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make hear or tail of it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same)—they gave him a reason for hating Popeˊ; and they made his hatred more real; they even made Popeˊ himself more real.”

I think this is why people say facts are just what’s there, but fiction is truth. Not that non-fiction can’t be beautifully expressed, as well. It simply takes someone who knows how to put the words together. Words give us the power to plumb the depths of ideas and say truth.



Nancy Stewart:

Hi, Barbara,

I remember as a young child, just before going to sleep, thinking about the differences and similarities in words.  I can’t remember a time when the putting together of words was not a part of who I am. 

Today, if it is possible, that involvement with the language is even stronger.  I almost consider it a different part of my being, where words are nurtured, coddled and codified to be revisited and used at a later date.  For me, the use of language is a gift, and I treat it as such.

In fear of being redundant, Jane Yolen’s, Owl Moon, is such a fine work.  A poem, really, with words flowing off the pages, inspiring young and old with their magic. It is the seminal work that inspires me to be a better children’s author.  It is a bellwether book to me.


Author of One Pelican at a Time


Janet Ann Collins:

I first became interested in language when I was about three years old and my baby brother was learning to talk.  Because he used intonation patterns and they expected words I could often understand him when the grown-ups couldn’t, which made me feel important. Just before my fifth birthday we moved from the East Coast to California and I was amazed at the different terms people used for things. For example, we had a sofa, but most of my new neighbors had couches and one had a Davenport. 

A couple of years later my Grandfather moved in with us. Every day when we came home from school he’d play his five-stringed banjo and we’d sing songs from the 1800s, which had many different terms than we normally used, in the lyrics. In Sunday School I heard passages from the King James Bible, which contained words and phrases even more different than the ones we used in our conversations. And, since I lived in California, there were lots of Spanish names for places around us.

With all those differences, how could I not have become interested in language?

Janet Ann Collins

Author of Signs of Trouble;

Opening Eyes, Opening Hearts


Barbara Ehrentreu:

I was always interested in words. I was so excited when I could read all the words around me. In third grade my teacher introduced me to poetry and I wrote a poem that was published in the School Bulletin for the whole school district. I also loved reading and my favorite was Alice in Wonderland with its fascinating and unusual words and experiences.

Later in my life when I started wanting to take graduate courses, I majored in American literature and also I took a linguistics class. Finally I realized though I still wanted to teach I wanted to teach reading and writing only. But the truth is my fascination with words and writing continues as I write and read more and more.

I hope this helps!


If I Could be Like Jennifer Taylor.


Holly Owen:

What really captures me is when an author creates characters that feel real. By the end of the story I want to be able to tell you what that character would do in any given situation, what foods they like, what makes them laugh or cry, what scares them. This goes for the main character as well as the supporting cast. If there is one book (books in this case) that I can say has impacted me more than any other, it would be the Harry Potter series. I feel like I know the people J.K. Rowling created and, in fact, in my dreams we are all friends. When I’m searching for a good story, my number one criteria is to find one with characters who I want to spend time with, or in the case of Voldemort, who has enough back story that I view him as a real person with a troubled past. I like people. They’re diverse and entertaining characters. So I suppose it makes sense to want the same from the make believe ones.



Thanks again, My Friends, for collaborating with me on this blog.

Monday Metaphor: Anachronisms: words out of time

Before we get started with our discussion of anachronisms, I want to extend to you an invitation to join me on this blog with your answer to this question, which came to me from one of my favorite readers, Janet Ann Collins:   Can you please explain how and why you became interested in language? You might include some of your favorite works of literature that contain the language that intrigues you.

 I’m looking forward to your responses which will become next week’s (or the week after’s) blog posting. Send to:

my twitter name:  babs22582

* * * *

One does not always think of anachronisms as literary devices. But these inconsistencies in chronological arrangement are not just something for the alert reader to point out and scoff at, but can be useful mechanisms for humor or other effects.

Anachronism brings the Greek words for “back” and “time” together to refer to the misplacement of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other. As Wikipedia says, “The item is often an object, but may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a custom, or anything else so closely associated with a particular period in time that it would be incorrect to place it outside its prober domain.”

Of course, it’s true that anachronisms are sometimes included in works of art accidentally.

The idea of a caveman driving a car, in the case of Fred Flintstone, is an anachronism of an artifact which appears out of its time period and results in an hilarious, what film-makers call, “sight joke.” There are other such items in the cartoon series which are integrated into the lives of the cave family, such as the toucan telephone and the “steam shovel” operated with dino-power. And having a dinosaur as a family pet is astonishing, and probably something that little tv watchers wish they could have.

In the movie, Aladdin, Disney allowed the Genie to make out-of-place jokes by impersonating famous people of various time periods.

The film Titanic also contains a well-known anachronism. The Leonardo di Caprio character claims to have gone ice fishing on Lake Wissota, near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which was not created until 1917, five years after the Titanic sank.

Other films are loaded with anachronisms, many of them dealing with costume and hair style. It’s interesting to compare the various versions of Cleopatra as she was portrayed by Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert, Vivian Lee, Elizabeth Taylor, and others (perhaps Catherine Zeta Jones?). Each one, though dressed to emulate Cleopatra, were icons of their own time periods.

Writers must be particularly careful to avoid anachronisms in their serious work so no one will cast aspersions on their work. Don’t put modern slang and figures of speech into the mouths of characters from the past. Someone from the 17th Century talking about finance would never use the expression “the bottom line.”

There have been incidents in futuristic science fiction where the technology was behind the times, as when the character speaks of “tapes.” They’re already almost obsolete.

In some works by Ray Bradbury, people travel in helicopters rather than cars as the usual mode of travel. This was supposed to have happened by now, but you will notice, it hasn’t.

I think there is only one time I have used an anachronism in my work. I will quote the opening of the article, “Mirror, Mirror,” which was published in Stories for Children.

A long time ago, there were no mirrors. A girl couldn’t see if her part was straight when she combed her hair. A boy couldn’t see if he had chocolate on his mouth when company came to the door. The only way people could see themselves was in a pool of still water. Imagine how happy everyone was when someone invented the mirror.

A related term is anatopism. This word (also from Greek: “against” plus “place”) describes something that is out of its proper place. For instance, an igloo would be out of place in Florida. Just because something is out of place doesn’t mean it is out of its proper time, although, it could be.

Remember, check your work for anachronisms and only use them if you intend to.

 * * * * *

Don’t forget, send me your blurb about your interest, love for, or connection with language to:

Monday Metaphor: Chiasmus: Learn to Study and Study to Learn

In rhetoric, chiasmus is a figure of speech which consists of two phrases or clauses which are parallel in syntax but with reversed structures (or inverted parallelism). As the name implies, the composition resembles an X in formation.

A synonym of chiasmus, antimetabole (pronounced  an-ti-mə-tab-ə-lee) is the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed grammatical order (e.g., “I know what I like, and I like what I know”). It is similar to chiasmus although chiasmus does not use repetition of the same words or phrases.

It appears that most modern grammarians use the two words interchangeably. 

Chiasmus was particularly popular both in Greek and in Latin literature, where it was used to articulate balance or order within a text.

Pliny the Younger uses the chiasmus frequently in his letters.

For example, in his letter about the death of Pliny the Elder, he described his uncle sailing into danger to save others:

            “He hurried to the place from where others were fleeing.”

A more complex form can be found in Cicero’s oration Pro Archia Poeta:

“There is a man present of the highest authority, duty, and faith, M. Lucullus who (will testify) that he himself does not believe but knows, did not hear but saw, was not only present but did it himself.”

In Wounds, p. 74 of the ms is this statement: “Here was all the proof he needed, if he needed proof of his villainy.” In fact, the book itself is formulated on a chiastic structure. (MuseItUp Publishing)

Elegant examples of chiasmus are found in the writings of political figures, for instance, four American presidents.

“…ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.

Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” John F. Kennedy

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America.”  Jimmy Carter Farewell Address

            The US Declaration of Independence, referring to the British: “We must… hold them, as    we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” (Thomas Jefferson).

      “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example    than by the example of our power.” Bill Clinton at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

As well as,

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

 “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Anon

“They say money don’t make the man but man, I’m makin’ money.” Tupac Shakur in the song “Thug Passion.”

Some of the more familiar examples of chiasmus come from the Bible. “Who sheds the blood of a man, by a man shall his blood be shed…” Genesis 9:6.

Examples abound, too, in poetry.

“Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.” P. B. Shelley, Defense of Poetry.

And sometimes in children’s literature.

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!” Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches an Egg.

Chiasmus does not need to be lexical; it can also be aural, as the classic quote,

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

Or the Fall Out Boy song title: “Champagne for my Real Friends; Real Pain for my Sham Friends”.

So bowing out on that entertaining note, this document will bid you goodbye.

Monday Metaphor: Allegory: This Really Means That

Allegory – A figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another in order to persuade; a parable.

Allegory is the use of fictional characters on the literal level of a story to unravel the abstract, philosophical, divine, historical, social, moral, mythological, religious or political meaning lying underneath its surface. Great allegories have many levels of meanings. In some cases, it might serve as protection against one’s enemies as it lacks direct accusations.

Sometimes, allegorical works use personification to underline the hidden symbolic meaning. At other times, the story runs like any other story at the surface, but for those who care to see, there is an underlying meaning.


 In To Kill A Mockingbird (of course, Harper Lee says “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”), there is an allegorical connection between the innocent mockingbird and the innocent Tom, who is wrongly accused of attacking a young woman.

As to whether To Kill a Mockingbird is a children’s book or not, I refer you to the ongoing debate in Nathan Bransford’s blog, This Week in Books.

My Hammers is an allegory. I use the “hammer” as a substitute for “cigarette.”

Allegory is also used for satire. Gulliver Travels, by Jonathan Swift, uses allegory to show the discrepancy between what man thinks he is (cultured, rational, truthful, virtuous) and how he acts (brutally, selfishly, irrationally, viciously).

In Animal Farm, George Orwell personifies animals to satirize the corruption in politics. In the book, Orwell shows how politicians dupe the public to come into power, enjoy life at their expense through manipulation and keep changing their ideals to suit their needs. This is shown through the medium of an animal farm, which symbolizes the world; the pigs are the politicians, the farm animals the public. What better way than to call politicians pigs and then throw your hands up in allegorical innocence!

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne is another moral allegory, which is not surprising being set in 17th century Puritan New England. It is said to address the “Calvinist/Puritan belief that humanity exists in a state of depravity, exempting those who are born in a state of grace. In a symbolic fashion, the story follows Young Goodman Brown’s journey into self-scrutiny which results in his loss of faith.”

I never finished reading The Fairie Queene by Edmund Spenser which was assigned by one of my undergraduate professors at Western Carolina. Maybe I will some day. It reads smoothly because the rhyming is perfect. The poem was written in praise of Queen Elizabeth I. The allegory is couched in the mythological setting of “Faerieland” with the presentation of morality through Arthurian knights exemplifying various virtues. But though it is one of the longest poems in English, it was never completed.

A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift, though considered religious allegory, is another of Swift’s satiric parodies on society. More serious and profound than Gulliver’s Travels, a large part of the work consists of a “tale” of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity. Considered difficult to decipher by scholars, a number of “keys” similar to Cliff’s Notes were written by Swift’s contemporaries who were eager to interpret the work.   

Consolation of Philosophy (perhaps the last Classical work of literature), written in 542 by Boethius, treats of morality without being specifically religious. Boethius believed in harmony between faith and reason, and that the truths found in Christianity are the same as those found in philosophy.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is an overall allegory for a society that has let savagery take over; morality is almost non-existent on this island. Individually, Simon stands for the innate morality of man and Piggy for intellect which cannot exist under overwhelming savagery. The naval man, representing civilization, restores order to the island.

Allegory is found less often in literature for younger children than the more straightforward approach.

Monday Metaphor: Prosthesis: Embolden your writing

I know you thought of the other meaning of prosthesis (prothesis) when you saw the metaphor for today.

The more well-known definition of “prosthesis” is that of an artificial body part, such as a replacement limb or eye.

But the word also has a linguistic meaning, closely resembling the first: “the addition of a sound or syllable at the beginning of a word to make the word easier to pronounce.”

The etymology of prosthesis comes from the Greek, meaning “to put before.”

Shakespeare uses it often for poetic effect:

Prospero: “I have bedimm’d the noontide sun.” Shakespeare, The Tempest



Touchstone: “I remember, when I was in love I broke my sword upon a stone and bid him take that for coming a-night to Jane Smile.” Shakespeare, As You Like It

I all alone beweep my outcast state.—Shakespeare Sonnets, 29

When Shakespeare says, “I hold her as a thing enskied.” he is implying that the girl should be placed in the heavens.

King Lear: “Old fond eyes, beweep this cause again.” Shakespeare, King Lear


I used it in “Hammers,” my story published in both Senior Times and Musings: “Some of the hammers are made of silver or gold, often encrusted with precious jewels.”

And in:

 “Little Hippo,” in Parents and Children Together:

“Enough! Enough! About flying and singing,”

Said Little Elephant, his trunk a-swinging.

“You can’t toss rocks or swing in trees.

Come back with me to the river, please.”

Prostheses are found in other works of literature.

Here is Bob Dylan’s usage in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

            “And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,

            And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”

E. B. White’s humor is showing in this answer to a New Yorker editor who changed the word “fresh” to “afresh” in one of his essays.

“My characters will hence forth go afishing, and they will read Afield and Astream. Some of them, perhaps all of them, will be asexual.”

There is more humor in this ungrammatical line from the movie, Mean Girls. Gretchen (played by Lacey Chabert) says, “Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean that’s just like the rules of feminism.”

Here is an array of well-known prosthetic words :

Asleep and adream.

I hope it will be just as you envisioned it.

He lay abed.

bemoan = moan, bewail

bedevil = torment

becalm – deprive a ship of wind

bedazzle = dazzle

bedeck = adorn

bedraggle = untidy, disheveled

befit – suitable

befuddle = confuse

bemuse = perplex, baffle

It seems to me, in many cases the prefix reinforces the meaning of the word itself.

Don’t be afrightened to use prosthesis in your work and share with us.

Monday Metaphor: Anacoenosis: Don’t you see it my way?

There are times when a speaker or writer speaks directly to his audience when it is implied that there is a common interest. He appeals to the audience for documentation or approval. He may be asking his audience or opponents for their opinion or answer to the point in question. There are cases when the speaker or writer needs either feedback from his audience or needs to persuade them to his way of thinking.

The rhetorical device he uses is anacoenosis (an-uh-si-noh-sis). Brutus uses it when he attempts to persuade the Roman mob that he killed Caesar for the good of Rome.

“Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge.

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:

Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare,  Act III Scene II

Here are some general examples of anacoenosis.

Do you not think we can do this now?

Now tell me, given the evidence before us, could you have decided any differently?

What do you think? Are we a bit weary? Shall we stay here for a while?

In most cases, a reply is not expected to the rhetorical question. Rather than coming outright and telling people what to think, these anacoenoses  are delivered with a softening effect.

Often times, the speaker wants to endear himself to the listener, as in this example.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” says the persona of Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet

My granddaughter, Jessica, and her turtle Mudd

Anacoenosis is used in the BIBLE.

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah:  “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?”

And The Prophet Micah:  “O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the Lord straitened: are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” Micah: 2:7


“Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.”   Micah: 1: 2.

This was posted by: E-Shark47 SharkNotes on Deviant Art:

I often wondered why certain people think they are superior
For something so materialistic
As one’s own possessions.
However, have you ever run into the ones
With superiority complexes the size of Miami
For one reason: ideology.
How did it feel when they degraded you for not sharing their beliefs
Or lack thereof?
How did it feel to be ostracized and degraded before your very eyes
And feel so inferior?
Care to tell me of the experience?

In modern literature, we can consider the Ancient Mariner’s speech, when he button-holes the Wedding Guest, to be anacoenosis.

It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,

And I am next of kin;

The guests are met, the feast is set:

May’st hear the merry din.’

He hold him with his skinny hand,

‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.

‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’

Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—

The Wedding-Guest stood still,

And listens like a three years’ child:

The Mariner hath his will.

I used anacoenosis when I wrote my article “Earth Day—The Giving Holiday,” for April 2009 issue of Stories for Children. I wanted to inform children about Earth Day and persuade them to celebrate a holiday in which they experienced giving instead of receiving.

Earth Day—The Giving Holiday

By: Barbara Bockman

Are you ready for a holiday when you give your gifts to Mother Earth?

Mother Earth has been a little sick lately and needs all the help we can give her.

But the Earth is so big, you say. What can I do?

It’s true you are only one person. However, on Earth Day everyone has one thing on their minds—what can we do for the Earth?


There are other ways in which writers speak to their audiences, with other purposes, such as the invocation to the Muse, asides and apostrophes. We’ll get to them another Monday.

Monday Metaphor: Litotes: Not bad, not bad at all.

Litotes is a kind of rhetorical device in which the speaker expresses an affirmative by using a negative to the contrary. It is generally understood as an understatement. The word is pronounced thus: LIH-tuh-teez. 

Litotes is in effect when an idea is expressed by a denial of its opposite, principally via double negatives.

Here is the way it is built.

You want to say, “The weather is fine.”

The contrary of that would be,  “The weather is bad.”

Using litotes, you say, “The weather is not bad.”

In a society where sarcasm is rife, it’s not unexpected that such a rhetorical device would be used across the spectrum of ages and types of literature as well as in everyday speech. I recently saw this on tv: at the end of a Burn Notice episode, two guy watch Fiona walk away. One says, ‘I don’t mind that.”

For example, rather than saying that something is attractive (or even very attractive), one might merely say it is “not unattractive.”

Someone too modest to say, “I’m happy,” might say, “I’m not unhappy.”

A giant of a literary figure might be described as “a poet of no small stature.”

Here is an example from history.

“I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives.”
(Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams, May 7, 1776)

Here is a list of litotes along with the interpretations:

Litotes: As a means of saying:
“Not bad.” “Good.”
“That [sword] was not useless / to the warrior now.” (Beowulf) “The warrior has a use for the sword now.”
“He was not unfamiliar with the works of Dickens.” “He was acquainted with the works of Dickens.”
“She is not as young as she was.” “She’s old.”
“Not unlike…” “Like…”
“You are not wrong.” “You are correct.”

Here are some examples of litotes in literature, movies, and tv.

Homer is known to have used litotes.. In Book 24 of the Iliad, Zeus describes Achilles (line 186), as being “neither unthinking, nor unseeing”, meaning that he is both wise and prudent.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was nothing, if not non-chalant. He had a blasé way of congratulating himself: “’Not a bad day’s work on the whole,’ he muttered, as he quietly took off his mask, and his pale, fox-like eyes glittered in the red glow of the fire. ‘Not a bad day’s work..”

(Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1905)

One of the most famous litotes of French literature is to be found in Pierre Corneille‘s Le Cid (1636). The heroine, Chimène, says to her lover Rodrigue, who just killed her father: “Go, I hate you not,” meaning “I love you.”

“Because though no beauty by fashion-mag standards, the ample-bodied Ms. Klause, we agreed, was a not unclever, not unattractive young woman, not unpopular with her classmates both male and female.”
(John Barth, “The Bard Award,” in The Development: Nine Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)

“Now we have a refuge to go to. A refuge that the Cylons know nothing about! It won’t be an easy journey.”
(Battlestar Galactica, 2003)

This is from Roseanne Dowell, a Muse author: “I write because I love it and can’t not write.”

A word of caution so that your litotes does not express the wrong sentiment. Sometimes a speaker has to be careful of his intonation. For example, the phrase “not bad” can be said in such a way as to mean anything from “mediocre” to “excellent.” It could show a reluctance to praise or even “damn with faint praise.”

Litotes is not a bad way to add variety to your stories. Share them with us if you already have some.

Now here are some announcements.

On Tuesday, July 19, I will be talking about Wounds with Kat Holmes on her blog talk radio show at 6:00 pm, Eastern time. The url for the show is

And the phone number for calling in is: 619-393-6798 and starts at 6 pm EST.


On Thursday, July 21, my guest on this blog will be Margot Finke. I will review her book, Taconi and Claude, from Guardian Angel Publishing.





Monday Metaphor: Contranyms: These Opposites Don’t Attract

A contranym or contronym is a word that has opposing meanings. It’s a word that can mean the opposite of itself.

A word to the wise contractor. When getting your instructions, if a homeowner asks you to “raise” his house, be sure that you don’t “raze” it, and if he asks you to “level” it, get explicit directions.

Was the hero of the mystery bound up (unable to move) or bound for Miami (moving away)?

The Baby Blue’s comic strip in Sunday’s funny paper extended the contranym to a phrase: After an exhausting day at the beach, the dad says, “That day at the beach was no day at the beach.”

 Yeah. Right. . . Yeah, right.

Hosting a golfer for dinner? Tea and greens should be lovely!

The seamstress trimmed extra fabric from the hem and trimmed the neck of the dress with lace.

Examples in literature:

We often think of an apology as an admission of fault and an expression of remorse.

But in his Apology of Socrates, Plato presents a defense of the charges against his old teacher.

 And within the text of the dialogue, there is this sentence:

 “I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has given rise to the slander of my person, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to prefer this charge against me.” This term is probably quite meaningful to lawyers, but most folks think of prefer as liking or wanting something or somebody more than something/somebody else.

In my Wounds (courtesy of MuseItUp Publishing), Mrs. Ark dusts the furniture with a feather duster. In CSI episodes, the cops dust the furniture for fingerprints.

Students sometimes cut into line and cut out of class.

The soldier was awarded a citation for bravery, and the careless driver was given a citation to appear in court.

Some more common examples are:

Cleave (to cut apart)

Cleave (to seal together)

Buckle (buckle your pants, to hold together)

Buckle (knees buckle, to collapse, fall apart)

Clip (attach to)

Clip (cut off from)

Fast (moving rapidly)

Fast (fixed in position)

Left (remaining)

Left (having gone)

Moot (arguable)

Moot (not worthy of argument)

Oversight (watchful control)

Oversight (something not noticed)

Sanction (a penalty)

Sanction (an approval)

It has been suggested that “literally” can mean both “literally” and “figuratively.” This is one example I do not agree with. I cannot remember ever seeing the word “literally” used to mean “figuratively.” When I have heard it used in this way, I assumed it was an ignorant mistake. I still think so.

We will close this post out at the opposite end by presenting another term sometimes used to describe a word with two opposite meanings: Janus words after the Roman god Janus who has two faces that look in opposite directions.

Do you have a favorite pair of contranyms that have perhaps confused you when you first encountered them? Please share.

Monday Metaphor: Anthimeria: Verbing the Noun

What is Anthimeria?

The word is a combination of two Greek words: anti, meaning “instead of” or “opposite” and mereia meaning “a part.”

A word is anthimeriaed (I just coined a word) when someone uses it as a different part of speech than it was when it came into the language. It is most commonly done when a noun is turned into a verb.

Nouning verbs and verbing nouns is so common, I can’t see why people make a big deal of it. I see it as another way the English language grows. Usually the reader has no trouble in deciphering the meaning. Just, “Oh, yeah; I get it.”

And then the new, coined word slips into the language. A generation later, it’s as familiar as its ancestor and is commonly accepted.

The wordsmith at says these words are “revolutionary.” They jump from their original part of speech to another.

It’s time we should all have a good sing.

Don’t worry. I’m mapping our progress.

Oh no, she will architect her own room.

Yeah, I am about halfway through. I have milestoned my life.

Why don’t you gift him a wig?

Ugh, they are keyboarding it all day long.

Table that article right now!

Yes, she’s OK now. She just needed a good cry.

Isn’t weirding language fun?

Naturally, the master is Shakespeare.

Antony and Cleopatra
Act II Scene V

“I’ll unhair thy head.”

King Lear
Act IV Scene VI

King Lear:
“When the rain came to wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when the thunder would not peace at my bidding; there found ‘em, there I smelt ‘em out.”

In Hamlet, he also creates a verb from an adjective:


Act III Scene I

“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

How’s this: The chair chaired the meeting sitting in his favorite chair.

In my story, “Arctic Danger” (Characters Magazine), I use the noun “kayak” as a verb.

High summer on the edge of the arctic circle melted the last snow chunks from the creek running in front of the Chugak home. Gary looked from the flowing water to the broken fishing rod in his hand. Then his attention was caught by the excited voice of his younger sister. “Gary, Mom said we could kayak to the store,” said Kiana, clutching her little purse. “And here’s a lunch she packed for us.”

Let’s see if we can figure out what I meant by this title: “Bear in Mind(Characters Magazine). I would say it is double usage, both verb and noun at the same time.

Tressa waved goodbye to her friends as she watched the school bus pull away. A thought was nibbling at the tip of her brain, like an about-to-be-born chick pecking at its shell. What have I forgotten? she wondered.

Anthimeria is an ongoing process with our language. New concepts are constantly being born and with them the words to express their meanings. Haven’t we all googled something on Google?

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