A new series of posts about what words to use, and how. In this series, I’ll consider Onomatopoeia, Simile, and Collective Nouns. From time to time, I may include the odd reference to other word use, and I’ll continue my Delusional Dictionary.
The last series, accessed through this link, dealt with Synonyms, Antonyms, Contronyms, Adverbs, Clichés, Redundancies, Plain-Language Alternatives for Wordy Phrases, Untranslatable Emotions, Words Often Misused and my own Delusional Dictionary.
I begin the new series with some definitions, so readers will understand where I’m starting from in the examples that will follow in future posts. I intend to link those posts to this one for readers seeking my terms of reference.
Onomatopoeia: defined by M.H. Abrams in A Glossary of Literary Terms, but paraphrased, as
- Narrow and most common use – onomatopoeia designates a word or combination of words whose sound seems to closely resemble the sound it denotes, such as ‘hiss’, ‘buzz’ and ‘rattle’.
- In the broad sense – onomatopoeia is applied to words or passages that seem to correspond to, or strongly suggest, what they denote in any way whatever; size, movement, tactile feel, or force, as well as sound.
And Alexander Pope suggests ‘the sound should seem an echo of the sense,’ and goes on, in his ‘Essay on Criticism’ (1711) to illustrate this thus:
‘When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er th’ unbending corn, and skims along the main.’
Simile: defined by The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, again paraphrased, as: ‘Where metaphor asserts the identity of unlike things, simile asserts their similarity: “My love is like a red, red rose” (Burns). The concrete element of a simile should be taken figuratively, not literally. Simile naturally lends itself to expansion.
Collective Nouns: Collins English Dictionary defines a collective noun as ‘a noun that is singular in form but that refers to a group of people or things.’ Also know as ‘terms of venery’, collective nouns are something of a moveable feast in linguistic terms; that is, there are sometimes numerous different labels applied to the same groupings. Ants, for example, can be known as an ‘army’, ‘colony’, ‘nest’, or ‘swarm’. And, as language develops, many previously unlisted collectives have been developed, often entirely at the whim of the creator. So, there are many collective nouns that aren’t yet considered ‘authentic’. Our use of them as writers is therefore open to debate but also allows us some choice and even inventiveness.
On usage, there’s no one rule that suits all, but (Bill) Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors suggests that whether such words are used as singulars or plurals is, or perhaps should be, a matter of what sense you want to convey. It can be generally said that UK writers tend to lean to the plural where US writers tend to move toward the singular. But there are no fixed rules that bear any real scrutiny, so the choice is yours. The best advice is to be consistent.
Delusional Dictionary: this is a personal list of definitions of words mostly in common usage but distorted by my own take on politics, religion, and other social concerns. Idiosyncratic and biased, it’s an attempt to both amuse and to stimulate debate and is, therefore, divisive and confrontational. You approach these definitions at your peril, especially if you hold strong opinions or suffer hypersensitivity. But I ask you to bear in mind that my tongue remains firmly in my cheek.
Come back next week for the first examples.
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