Boosing shed

Boosing shed

In Brief

Figure of speech. After Stephen proposes that the gathering in the newspaper office "do now adjourn" to a place where alcohol may be consumed, Lenehan asks, "To which particular boosing shed?... My casting vote is: Mooney's!" Mooney's was a respectable pub on Lower Abbey Street, so calling it a boozing shed demeans it. There is a rhetorical term for this kind of linguistic debasement: tapinosis.

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Pronounced tap-uh-NO-sis, the word comes from the Greek tapeinosis = lowering, humbling. It is sometimes described as one particular kind of meiosis, a more general term for understatement. Thinking along these lines, Gideon Burton ( offers the example of calling the Mississippi River "a stream." But many discussions of the trope suggest that the classical theorists had in mind a more aggressive kind of diminution.

Seidman cites the definition in J. Smith's The Mysteries of Rhetoric (1657): "humility, that is when the dignity or majesty of high matter is much defeated by the baseness of a word." Richard Nordquist ( goes further, describing tapinosis as "name-calling." He quotes three interesting characterizations consistent with this view. In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham holds that "If you abase your thing or matter by ignorance or error in your choice of your word, then is it by vicious manner of speech called tapinosis." Puttenham's opinion that viciously demeaning speech could only happen inadvertently appears to be unusual. In Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language (1947), Sister Miriam Joseph defines tapinosis as deliberate "use of a base word to diminish the dignity of a person or thing." A supreme Shakespearean example would be the string of invective that Kent hurls at Oswald in King Lear. In Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World (2008), Catherine M. Chin similarly defines the figure as "the low presentation of something great, contrary to its dignity."

The rhetorical tradition came up with other terms for this kind of verbal attack. The most frequently encountered one is humiliatio, which appears to be a close synonym.

John Hunt 2023
Name-calling on the playground. Source: