Heartburn on your arse
on your arse
Figure of speech. Simon Dedalus responds to the
excesses of Dawson's speech with a strained image: "Agonising
Christ, wouldn't it give you a heartburn on your arse?"
Heartburn is a serviceable metaphor for the discomfort
he feels, but the arse is a strange place to locate it. Later,
Lenehan uses the word "expectorated" in place of
"expected." Both utterances are examples of catachresis,
the (sometimes deliberate) misuse of language.
Catachresis (CAT-uh-CREE-sis) means "misuse" in Greek (kata-
= down, wrong + khresthai = to use). It can refer
either to choosing the wrong word for a particular context
(travesty for tragedy, peak for pique, chronic for severe,
disinterested for uninterested) or to using metaphor in a
strained or contradictory way. So-called mixed metaphors, ones
which mingle two different kinds of comparison, can sometimes
be quite effective, but when inept, as in the examples
illustrated here, they are a species of catachresis.
But catachresis can itself be deliberate and effective. Two
of the three definitions in the American Heritage
Dictionary are "Strained use of a word or phrase, as for
rhetorical effect" and "A deliberately paradoxical figure of
speech." Simon's saying surely meets both of these criteria:
he knows where heartburn belongs, but puts it elsewhere for
rhetorical effect. Seidman quotes a dismissive
definition from Quintilian that the OED repeats
verbatim: "abuse or perversion of a trope or metaphor."
Pedants may condemn such freedom, but it staves off the
entropic force of cliché.
Unlike Seidman, who sees the device in Simon's arresting
expression, Gilbert applies it to Myles Crawford's image of
Ireland as a snowball: "You and I are the fat in the fire. We
haven't got the chance of a snowball in hell." These two
sentences do mix metaphors impressively, but it is hard to see
the second one as catachrestic. Far from fulfilling Gilbert's
definition of the device as "metaphor bold to a degree of
impropriety," the image of a snowball in hell, once no doubt
powerfully fresh, has become so familiar as to be called
almost a cliché.
Quintilian does recognize that the wrong word can
sometimes be the right one. While the author of the Ad
Herennium treats catachresis as an abuse––"the inexact
use of a like or kindred word in place of the precise and
proper one"––Quintilian defines such abusio as "the
practice of adapting the nearest available term to describe
something for which no actual term exists." In other words,
when no good word exists the orator may take one which does
and adapt it to new uses. Gideon Burton (rhetoric.byu.edu)
offers some examples: "The elbow of his nose is
disproportionable," or "In his rage at Gertrude, Hamlet nearly
became a parricide like his uncle."