In Brief

Figure of speech. While exchanging words with Joseph Patrick Nannetti over the unholy racket of the printing press, Bloom thinks, "He doesn't hear it. Nannan. Iron nerves." Nannan may be a nickname familiar to Dubliners, but in a chapter filled to bursting with rhetorical figures it also registers as a conscious manipulation of language. One possible label for it is antisthecon, the substitution of one letter, sound, or syllable for another within a word. Or a different kind of metaplasm, apocope, might apply.

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Originally called antistoechon, antisthecon (an-TIS-thuh-con, from Greek anti- = against + stoicheon = letter order) may involve the substitution of a single letter, a fact reflected in its Latin synonym, littera pro littera. Gideon Burton ( supplies an elegant and illustrative example that the writer of Finnegans Wake would have liked: "A pun is its own reword." Many puns work by changing a single letter, though the change may be disguised when spoken aloud because the new word is a homonym.

Antisthecon can also take the form of inserting new syllables. This sometimes occurs in mispronounced words (some of which eventually come to seem acceptable): "Wooster" for "Worcester" (oost for or-chest), "seccetry" for "secretary" (kett for kreh-tair), "mischevious" for "mischievous" (chee-vee for chiv), "Febuary" for "February" (yoo for roo). Like Worcester, Joyce's alteration of Nannetti's name takes away two syllables and adds one.

There may be other ways of understanding the sobriquet, however. Seidman calls it an example of apocope, which at first glance seems simply mistaken: "Nannan" does not merely remove "netti" but replaces it with "nan." But perhaps Seidman means (he does not explain himself) that the name has been reduced and then repeated: Nan-Nan. One can readily imagine that pronunciation, and there are many such nicknames: Bam-Bam (The Flintstones), Bibi (Netanyahu), Gigi, Coco, Cece, Jojo, Lili, Lulu. Did Nannetti's acquaintances rechristen him Nan-Nan because of his association with the loud, repetitive clanks of the printing press over which voices must struggle to be heard?

JH 2023
Two species of clown fish. Source: