'Mid mossy banks

'Mid mossy banks

In Brief

Figure of speech. Aping elevated (and antiquated) poetic diction, Dan Dawson's speech omits letters from many words, turning "though" into "tho'," "amid" into "'mid," "beneath" into "'neath," "over" into "o'er," and "it were" into "'twere." Rhetorical theory has many different names for such omissions, depending on where they occur in a word. All are forms of metaplasm, or changes of spelling.

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Metaplasm (MET-uh-PLAZ-um, from Greek meta- = change + plassein = to mold) means changing orthography by subtracting, adding, transposing, or substituting letters or syllables. Ancient rhetoricians identified many different kinds of phonetic subtraction, three of which appear in one sentence of Dawson's speech.

Apocope (uh-POCK-uh-pee, from Greek apo- = off, away from + koptein = to cut, strike off) refers to "cutting off" final letters. There are countless examples in common speech: photo, ad, limo, obit, street cred, the British pud, the Australian barbie. Even when pronunciation is not affected, people often like to simplify spellings, changing "through" to "thru" and "though" to "tho." Dawson's speech uses an apocope of this sort as it describes a brook babbling on its way to the sea, "tho' quarrelling with the stony obstacles."

Syncope (SIN-cuh-pee, from syn- = together, thoroughly + koptein) means removing letters or syllables from the middle of words, as in the nautical terms "bos'n" for boatswain and "fo'c'sle" for forecastle. This term is commonly used in linguistics to describe the human tendency to elide middle syllables, producing sounds like "famly" and "camra." It is a staple of poetry, or was so in the days when writers labored to subjugate lexical rhythms to meters like iambic pentameter. Locating himself in this dying tradition, Dawson describes the brook luxuriating in "the shadows cast o'er its pensive bosom by the overarching leafage."

Aphaeresis (uh-FAIR-uh-sis, from apo- + hairein = to take) is the term for "taking away" letters or syllables from the beginning of words. The removal of an initial syllables is another useful tool for maintaining meter, and one can hear Victorian poetic cadences in the phrases "'mid mossy banks" and "'neath the shadows." A bit later in Aeolus Ned Lambert reads from the speech a sentence that contains a slightly different kind of aphaeresis: "As 'twere, in the peerless panorama of Ireland's portfolio..." At first glance this looks similar to "'mid" and "'tween," but "'twere" is a contraction of two words, and only "it" has been shortened. Rhetorical theory does provide two terms for metaplasm involving the contraction of words, though neither of them seems perfectly relevant here.

Ecthlipsis (ec-THLIP-sis, from Greek ek- = out + thlibein = to rub), a term important mostly for Latin poetry, shortens the end of one word to join it to the following one in a metrically desirable way. Gideon Burton (rhetoric.byu.edu) quotes an example given by the 15th century rhetorician Peter Mosellanus: "Multum ille et terris iactatus et alto" can be shortened to "Mult'ill'et terris iactatus et alto." Synaloepha (SIN-uh-LIF-uh, from Greek syn- = together + aleiphein = to smear, melt) joins two words by eliminating a vowel from the end of one or the beginning of the other, as in these lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "When yond same star that's westward from the pole / Had made his course t'illume that part of heaven." (Apocope is also operating in "illume.") Neither term quite fits the case of "'twere," which cuts a vowel from the beginning of the first word.

If all of the foregoing seems to be getting pretty far down in the weeds, chasing fine distinctions for small profit, it's worth remembering that in Finnegans Wake Joyce brought phonetic subtraction, addition, transposition, and substitution to a level unimagined in anyone's wildest dreams. A catalogue of metaplasms in that work would probably fill hundreds of volumes.

JH 2023
Source: www.ifioque.com
Source: www.starnewsonline.com
Syncopic pronunciations. Source: www.thoughtco.com.
Common examples of aphaeresis. Source: www.thoughtco.com.