Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Insolens Verbum


I am reading The Man who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton and as ever wonder whether his over use of paradoxes(oi) was a severe defect of his style. They seem like shiny, glittery objects which have a mesmeric effect and stun the judgement by their patent cleverality. It is, I suggest, a corollary of the principle mentioned by Coleridge in Essays on the Principles of Method:

For if he be, as we now assume, a well-educated man as well as a man of superior powers, he will not fail to follow the golden rule of Julius Caesar, Insolens verbum, tanquam scopulum, evitare. (De Analogia) Unless where new things necessitate new terms, he will avoid an unusual word as a rock.

Avoid reefs - you tend to get stuck on them. Unusual juxtapositions have that effect for they require unpacking. Richard Whately in his Rhetoric has the better procedure. First expatiate and then summate by the apothegm or other device. Oops, insolens verba.

Still, I enjoy his paradoxes, which is undoubtedly a defect in me:

"Listen to me," cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—"

((Full Quote from Caesar: tamquam scopulum, sic fugias inauditum atque insolens verbum trans:avoid a strange and unfamiliar word as you would a dangerous reef ))

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