Help for writers and language learners. This series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.
This week’s words: Gabble, Left, Chiasmus, Genuinely, and, Gilding the lily.
Gabble – Roget lists these headers: ululate, empty talk, speak, stammer, and be loquacious. Under the sub-heading ‘loquacious’ are a further 68 alternatives, including talkative, go on and on, gabble, jabber, yak, ramble on, have one’s say, effuse, gush, filibuster, bore, and never stop talking.
Let’s look at usage for Gabble:
‘Harvey always gabbles when faced with a situation that makes him nervous.’
‘Jenny looked out over the huge crowd of parents and, overwhelmed by the numbers, let her poetry reading become no more than incomprehensible gabble.’
In Harvey’s case, we could use ‘gush(es)’ or ‘jabber(s)’, but other alternatives would need the sentence to be restructured to maintain meaning. In Jenny’s case, gabble has been used as a noun instead of a verb, so different synonyms will apply. A good exercise would be to see what alternatives you can think of, without resorting to a thesaurus.
Left belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that has two, or sometimes more, opposing meanings!
Left can mean either staying or gone. It also has a political meaning, which applies to those whose philosophy is for justice and fairness, often called ‘socialists’.
‘The men left the dining room to smoke their cigars and drink their port in the drawing room.’
‘The women were left to enjoy their time without noisy interruption.’
Figure of speech:
Chiasmus: A figure in which the order of words of parallel structures, usually clauses, is inverted.
‘She dreams of romance, and of romance she dreams.’ This is a form of mirrored repetition, often employed in poetry.
‘Loving celebrates life, as living celebrates love.’ Here we use loving-life and living-love as parallel word pairs.
‘The writing must be novel for the novel to be written.’ Here two different meanings of ‘novel’ apply to the pair writing-written.
Redundancies are words serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.
This week’s example: ‘Genuinely’
‘I’m genuinely worried about Marion’s attitude to boys.’ This is a redundancy: it’s unlikely anyone would say they were ‘falsely’ or ‘insincerely’ anxious, as this would introduce an oxymoron that would expose their lack of concern. ‘I’m concerned about Marion’s attitude to boys.’ says everything necessary here.
Cliché; a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been so overused it no longer holds any power. However, clichés usually come into being as the result of their original effective ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate; in dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.
Gilding the lily: an expression that means enhancing or exaggerating the reality of an object or situation.
‘James described Norma as a perfect woman, which his friends considered to be gilding the lily.’ We could say instead: ‘James described Norma as a perfect woman, which his friends believed to be an exaggeration.’
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