Brother-in-law of Chris Callinan

Brother-in-law of Chris Callinan

In Brief

Figure of speech. After Myles Crawford finishes describing Ignatius Gallaher's reportorial coup, he celebrates the man's influence on later journalists: "He was all their daddies!" Lenehan picks up the metaphor and then gives the expression an absurd twist by mentioning Gallaher's family: "— The father of scare journalism, Lenehan confirmed, and the brother-in-law of Chris Callinan." He is, more or less, employing the rhetorical device of zeugma or syllepsis, in which a verb or a noun governs two or more elements of a sentence, but with strikingly different meanings.

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Zeugma (ZOOG-muh, from Greek zeugma = yoking, joining) and syllepsis (sih-LEP-sis, from Greek syn - = together + lepsis = taking) are sometimes treated as exact synonyms, sometimes not. Some authorities maintain that zeugma is a more general term for a single word governing two or more elements of a grammatical series, while syllepsis describes the particular case where grammatical parallelism is accompanied by semantic incongruity. Others, confusingly, say just the opposite: syllepsis is the more general kind of parallelism, zeugma the particular case in which grammar and semantics diverge. Still others make other fine distinctions which there is no need to explore here.

Whichever term is used for it, the kind of construction in which grammar and semantics diverge can produce some striking effects. "Fix the problem, not the blame" (Dave Weinbaum); "Rend your heart, and not your garments" (Joel); "he was alternately cudgelling his brains and his donkey" (Dickens' Oliver Twist); "He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men" (O'Brien's The Things They Carried). Sometimes the difference of meanings can be great enough to inspire laughter or a sense of total absurdity: "Kill the boys and the luggage!" (Shakespeare's Henry V); "stain her honour, or her new brocade" (Pope's The Rape of the Lock); "Time flies like an arrow––fruit flies like a banana" (Groucho Marx). Anyone who becomes aware of this device will begin seeing it everywhere. While thinking about writing this note, I encountered two uses in the Washington Post within five minutes: "Those memories [of rich cheese] stick with me, along with the cholesterol"; "The collapses [of houses] spread debris––and anxiety––for more than a dozen miles along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore."

Lenehan's use, "The father of scare journalism...and the brother-in-law of Chris Callinan," does not strictly meet the rhetorical definitions because father and brother-in-law are different words. But much the same principle is at work, and the sentence achieves an effect much like the ones quoted above. Expecting another metaphorical use of familial relationships, the hearer is shocked to discover that the brother-in-law is a literal one. Stuart Gilbert flagged this as an instance of zeugma and I am inclined to agree with him, especially since I picture Joyce hovering at his side offering suggestions about the novel's use of rhetorical figures.

Robert Seidman finds Gilbert's attribution "a little strained for the definition" and proposes applying the term zeugma to a different sentence in Aeolus: "We are the boys of Wexford / Who fought with heart and hand." He also identifies an instance of syllepsis in the chapter (though his differentiation of the two terms is very hard to follow), when Myles Crawford says that Ignatius Gallaher "Gave it to them on a hot plate, ...the whole bloody history." Metaphorical and literal senses again are involved here, as Seidman notes, but this example seems more than a little strained, because "Gave" is not being applied in the same grammatical way: "history" is its direct object and "on a hot plate" is a prepositional phrase. Saying "He gave them the whole bloody history on a hot plate" does not involve grammatical parallelism, so the semantic divergence seems beside the point. But perhaps I am missing Seidman's point.

JH 2023