Dissonant Adjectives
September 21, 2007 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for a grammatical construction in which two different types of adjectives -- for example, one describing a physical characteristic and one passing a moral judgment -- are used to modify the same noun?

Jorge Luis Borges cites a couple of examples in his story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote": Shakespeare's "a malignant and a turban'd Turk," and Cervantes's "the moist and grieving Echo." I love the dissonant quality of those phrases, but I don't know what to call it. Is there a proper term for this in linguistics or rhetoric? (Further examples would be nice, too, if you have any favorites.)
posted by Acetylene to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
it seems close to some form of zeugma but I can't find a form that matches exactly.
posted by crocomancer at 12:48 PM on September 21, 2007

Zeugma seems like the right territory; poking around a bit (e.g. language log), I wasn't able to find a perfect match here either.
posted by cortex at 1:08 PM on September 21, 2007

I think 'syllepsis' describes this more precisely than zeugma, but it doesn't seem perfect either.
posted by null terminated at 1:36 PM on September 21, 2007

It's a form of hypozeugma. There's a word I haven't used in 20 years.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:28 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd call it an "adjectival diazeugma."

Silva Rhetoricae: "Diazeugma: 'The figure by which a single subject governs several verbs or verbal constructions (usually arranged in parallel fashion and expressing a similar idea); the opposite of zeugma.'"

Replace "adjectives" for "verbs" in the above and you've got it.
posted by HerArchitectLover at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2007

Having been schooled recently in the distinction between zeugma and syllepsis, I'm going to say that the dissonance between the paired adjectives here makes "syllepsis" the more precise term for what you're describing, although zeugma also applies.
posted by Orinda at 6:33 PM on September 21, 2007

The following excerpt isn’t an example of two different types of adjectives, but rather two different types of nouns.

I told them about how I’d been on a swim team in high school, and even competed at the state level, but had been defeated early on by Bishop O’Dowd, a Catholic school. They seemed really, really interested in my story. I hadn’t even thought of it as a story before this, but now I could see that it was actually a very exciting story, full of drama and chlorine …

From the short story The Swim Team which appears in No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

Seeing the words “drama” and “chlorine” together like that made me smile.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 8:22 PM on September 21, 2007

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