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The offences against brevity considered....Part II. Pleonasm.
"I went home," says the Guardian, " full of "a great many serious reflections *" much better, "full of serious reflections." If he happens," says the Spectator," to have any leisure upon his hands †.” To what purpose upon his hands? "The everlasting club," says the same author, "treats all other clubs "with an eye of contempt;" for "treats all other "clubs with contempt." To treat with the eye, is also chargeable with impropriety and vulgarism. “ Flavia, "who is the mamma," says the Tatler, "has all the "charms and desires of youth still about her §." The two last words are at least superfluous.
* No. 34. VOL. II.
In such a phrase as this, "I wrote a letter to you "yesterday," the French critics would find pleonasm; because it means no more than what is clearly expressed in these words, "I wrote to you yesterday." Yet in the last form there is an ellipsis of the regimen of the active verb; and one would imagine, that the supplying of an ellipsis could never constitute a pleon-· nasm. It is at least certain, that where the supply is so necessary, as it is here, it is better to follow the usual mode of speaking. But when any additional circumstance requires the insertion of the noun, the nicest judge will not condemn the expression as pleonastic; as, "I wrote you a long letter yesterday."
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
"This is the third letter I have written you on the "same subject*"
Ir may not be improper here to remark, that every word that is accounted an expletive, doth not always constitute a pleonasm. For example, the do and the did, as the signs of the tenses, are frequently necessary and sometimes emphatical. The idiom of the language renders them for the most part necessary in negation and interrogation; and even in affirmation they are found in certain circumstances to give an emphasis to the expression. For instance, "Did I
object to this measure formerly? I do object to it "still." Or, "What I did publicly affirm then, I do "affirm now, and I will affirm always." The contrast of the different tenses in these examples, is more precisely marked by such monosyllables as are intended singly to point out that circumstance, than they can be by the bare inflections of the verb. The particle there, when it is not an adverb of place, may be con
It deserves our notice, that on this article, the idiom of the tongue hath great influence, insomuch that an expression in one language may contain a pleonism, which, if literally rendered into another, would express no more than is quite necessary. Thus the phrase in French, " Il lui donna des coups de sa main," is pleonastic; but there is no pleonism in these words in English, "He gave "him blows with his hand." On the contrary, "Il lui donna des 68 coups de main," is proper in French. 66 He gave him blows with "hand," is defective in English. The sense, however, may be expressed in our language with equal propriety and greater brevity in this manner, “ He gave him handy blows."
The offences against brevity considered....Part II. Pleonism.
sidered as a kind of expletive, since, we cannot assign to it a separate sense. Nevertheless it is no pleonasm; for though it is not easy to define in words the import of such terms, yet if the omission of them make the expression appear either stiff or defective, they are not to be regarded as useless.
LASTLY, I shall observe on this subject, that as there are some single words, which have I know not what air of tautology, there are some also which have a pleonastic appearance. Such are the following, unto, until, selfsame, foursquare, devoid, despoil, disannul, oftentimes, nowadays, downfall, furthermore, wherewithall; for to, till, same, square, void, spoil, annul, often, now, fall, further, wherewith. The use of such terms many writers have been led into, partly from the dislike of monosyllables, partly from the love of variety. The last end it hardly answers, as the simple word is still included; and as to the first, I am persuaded that this dislike hath carried some modern writers to the other extreme, and, I imagine, the worse extreme of the two. It hath proceeded on an opinion, which I shall afterwards evince to be erroneous, that, a frequent recurrence of monosyllables is inconsistent with harmony. However, with regard to the words specified, it would not be right to preclude entirely the use of them in poetry, where the shackles of metre render variety more necessary; but they ought to be used very sparingly, if at all, in prose.
Of vivacity as depending on the number of the words.
It is worth while to remark, that the addition of a short syllable to the termination of a word, when that syllable hath no separate signification, doth not exhibit the appearance of a pleonasm, which any syllable prefixed, or a long one added, never fails to exhibit. Thus mountain, fountain, meadow, valley, island, climate, are as good as mount, fount, mead, vale, isle, clime, and in many cases preferable. Indeed the words fount, mead, vale, and clime, are now almost confined to poetry. Several adjectives may in like manner be lengthened by the addition of an unaccented syllable, as ecclestical, astronomical, philosophical, grammatical, from ecclesiastic, astronomic, philosophic, grammatic; in all which, if the choice be not a matter of absolute indifference, it may at least be determined by the slightest consideration of variety or of sound. Sometimes custom insensibly assigns different meanings to such different formations, as in the words comic and comical, tragic and tragical, politic and political. Though the words here coupled were at first equally synonymous with those before mentioned, they are not entirely so at present. Tragic denotes belonging to tragedy; tragical, resembling tragedy. The like holds of comic and comical. We say, "the tragic muse, the comic muse;" and "a tragic poet," for a writer of tragedy, "a comic poet," for a writer of comedy; but " I heard a tragical story," for a mournful story, and "I met with "a comical adventure," for a droll adventure. We say, "a politic man," for an artful fellow; but a po
The offeuces against brevity considered....Part II. Pleonism,
litical writer, for a writer on politics. There is not, however, a perfect uniformity in such applications, for we constantly use the phrase "the body politic," and not political, for the civil society. On the whole, however, it would seem that what is affixed, especially when unaccented, is conceived as more closely united to the word, than what is prefixed is conceived to be. In this last case the supernumerary syllable, if it make no change on the signification, always conveys the notion of an expletive, which is not suggested in the first.
BUT before I quit this subject, it will not be beside the purpose to observe, that there are cases in which a certain species of pleonasm may not only be pardonable, but even have a degree of merit. It is at least entitled to indulgence, when it serves to express a pertinent earnestness of affirmation on an interesting subject, as in phrases like these, "We have seen with our eyes," "we have heard with our ears," which perhaps are to be found in every language *. Again, in poetical description, where the fancy is addressed, epithets which would otherwise be accounted superfluous, if used moderately, are not without effect. The aznre heaven, the silver moon, the blushing morn, the seagirt isle. Homer abounds in such. They of ten occur also in sacred writ. The warm manner of the ancient Orientals, even in their prose-compositions,
* Vocemque his auribus hausi. Vidi ante oculos ipse meos,