He looked (though he was not)

He looked (though he was not)

In Brief

Figure of speech. J. J. O'Molloy recalls that John F. Taylor was very sick when he arrived to give his speech: "His dark lean face had a growth of shaggy beard round it. He wore a loose neckcloth and altogether he looked (though he was not) a dying man." The parenthetical phrase is an example of what ancient rhetoricians called epanorthosis, or sometimes metanoia––a correction of something that the speaker has just said.

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Epanorthosis (EP-uh-nor-THO-sis, from Greek epi- = in addition + ana- = again + orthos = straight, right, correct, so "setting right again") is a correction of something that went before. Metanoia (MET-uh-NOY-uh, from meta- = change + noein = to think, so "changing one's mind") means the same thing. The author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium says that this figure (which he calls by its Latin name correctio) "retracts what has been said and replaces it with what seems more suitable." Gideon Burton (rhetoric.byu.edu) defines it as "Amending a first thought by altering it to make it stronger or more vehement." He gives the example "I am angry––no, I am furious about the delay." The Herennium author too has examples of this sort: "O Virtue's companion, Envy, who art wont to pursue good men, yes, even to persecute them."

But, on the contrary, Richard Nordquist (www.thoughtco.com) observes that epanorthosis can often be a retraction or weakening of what was said. He cites these sentences from Golding's Lord of the Flies: "Maybe there is a beast.... What I mean is...maybe it's only us." He also quotes Paul Simon: "I don't like the majority of what I do. I shouldn't say I don't like it, but I'm not satisfied with almost everything that I do." In The Hermeneutics of Original Argument: Demonstration, Dialectic, Rhetoric (1998), cited by Nordquist, P. Christopher Smith recalls a classic instance of such partial retraction, Augustine's "Give me chastity and continence––but not yet" (Confessions 8.7). O'Molloy's statement is of this sort: John Taylor looked like a dying man, but in fact he was only very ill.

Some rhetoricians, including John Walker in A Rhetorical Grammar (1822), have remarked on the resemblance between epanorthosis and the parenthesis, which briefly interrupts the grammatical flow of a sentence to insert some relevant thought. Joyce's example of the figure certainly supports this inference, being set off from its sentence in parentheses.

JH 2023
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Instructional slide by Helen Page. Source: slideplayer.com.