Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Things grammatical

A serious question
What's the difference between a syllepsis and a zeugma? Yes, I'd really like to know. Please.

A silly question
Which Punctuation Mark Are You?

I'm an ellipsis. . .
Your life can be difficult because of your insecurities, but you should know that it isn't your fault. YOU didn't ask to be thrown in around thirty times per page in every bodice-ripper on the shelf! Those who overuse you can kiss your . . . you know. You need to learn to hold your head high and glory in your solitude. You really do have excellent, scholarly tastes. You must never forget that your friend, the period, will be there to support you at the end of every sentence where you truly belong, and, if what is left out is as important as what is said, why, then you are as vital as the alphabet!


Lizzie said...

I'm a semicolon:

Congratulations! You are the semicolon! You are the highest expression of punctuation; no one has more of a right to be proud. In the hands of a master, you will purr, sneering at commas, dismissing periods as beneath your contempt. You separate and connect at the same time, and no one does it better. The novice will find you difficult to come to terms with, but you need no one. You are secure in your elegance, knowing that you, and only you, have the power to mark the skill or incompetence of the craftsman. You have no natural enemies; all fear you. And never, NEVER let anyone tell you that you cannot appear in dialogue!

Wow...I feel better about myself somehow. Or should that be "Wow; I feel better about myself somehow."?

martha said...

I am also a semi colon. Who knew?

martha said...

Oops. Semicolon.

Suzanne said...

I'm a dash!


There's no denying that you have a certain flair. You don't mind being around others, especially your little brother, the hyphen, but you rarely emerge except when needed. You respond well to those who know how to treat you, but have only contempt for those who don't--you tend to embarass them every chance you get. Your only enemy is the colon--he will sometimes try to move in on your turf.

As for #1 -- I still have to look into it! (Shamefacedly tardy with e-mail reply...)

patricia said...

I'm an ellipsis, too! Looks like I'm in good company.

Normally I would have been able to answer your question, but all my punctuation books have been tucked away in boxes.

Maggie said...

Usually, the terms zeugma and syllepsis are considered synonymous, but you may find this article helpful.

Isabella said...

Thanks, Maggie. I can't find your email address, so I'll clarify my question here in case anyone else has further insight.

It all started when Suzanne asked the name of this construction: "I pushed my luck and the double stroller." I love this type of construction.

Actually, the link you provide for definitions is exactly what prompted me to ask my question in the first place, on the tails of a brief exchange with Suzanne.

One of my preferred authorities is Bryan Garner, and in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage he gives examples of zeugma that meet the criteria for syllepsis by your link's definition. ("You held your breath and the door for me.")

He then shows that zeugma is commonly used to refer to a kind of grammatical error, "as when a single word refers to two or more words in the sentence when it properly applies to only one of them. One type, the nontransferable auxiliary, plagues writers who habitually try to express ideas in the alternative" (eg, "Although outside professionals have and will be called in to work on the station...."). But he does not proclaim one or the other definition of the term "zeugma" to be more common or more correct. (This second usage may be more in keeping with the definition provided by BYU.)

But Garner's entry concludes as follows:
Although commentators have historically tried to distinguish beween zeugma and syllepsis, the distinctions have been confusing and contradictory: "even today agreement on definition in the rhetorical handbooks is virtually nil." The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 1383 (Alex Preminger & T.V.F. Brogan eds., 1993). We're better off using zeugma in its broadest sense and not confusing matters by introducing syllepsis, a little-known term the meaning of which even the experts can't agree on.

And completely unhelpfully, his entry for syllepsis is "see zeugma."

So. I'd like to confirm my current understanding that syllepsis is a specific type of zeugma. But I'd also like to see more evidence, beyond these 2 not entirely in-step sources and dictionary definitions, for whether either of these terms has generally agreed-upon definitions.

In a nutshell. (Yes, I must be in a nutshell.)

Kimberly said...

I'm quotation marks:

There is a lot more to you than meets the eye. You certainly get plenty of "action," but you'd be happier if those who lusted after you were more selective. You hate being used as a general intensifier; haven't these people ever heard of underlining? Italics? And yes, you remember the cruel words Mr. Joyce directed at you. But you let none of this get you down; those who abuse you are destined for a "special" reward, sooner or later. You feel particularly warm toward periods, commas, exclamation points, and question marks, and usually wish to have them next to you. Parenthesis can sometimes trouble you.

If I change a couple of answers to my second choice, I become ellipsis.

Julie said...

Wow! Syllepsis and zeugma. I never heard of either, though I also adore that construction. It will be a challenge to work those terms into a conversation, but I'm going to try. Now, how do you pronounce zeugma?

Julie, another . . . ellipsis