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.
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
(rhetoric.byu.edu/Figures/T/tapinosis.htm) 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.
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
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.