Monday, March 14, 2005


I learnt a new word a couple days ago from Language Log: zeugma, which is "[a] construction in which a single word, especially a verb or an adjective, is applied to two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both in different ways, as in He took my advice and my wallet."

That immediately recalled the Flanders and Swann song Have some madeira, m'dear. The lyrics are here, and these are the relevant lines:

And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps:
When he asked, "What in heaven?" she made no reply,
Up her mind, and a dash for the door.

I highly recommend all the Flanders and Swann songs; there's a set of CDs, the first of which is At the drop of a hat, the second At the drop of another hat and the famous Bestiary.

In particular, there's the Gnu Song, which is the song that got a lot of people pronouncing pre-nasal velars (that doesn't seem quite the right term, somehow...), at least in the word gnu. Here's the chorus:

I'm a g-nu, I'm a g-nu
The g-nicest work of g-nature in the zoo
I'm a g-nu, how d'you do
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho.
I'm a g-nu, spelt G-N-U,
I'm g-not a camel or a kangaroo.
So let me introduce,
I'm g-neither man nor moose,
So g-nu g-nu g-nu, I'm a g-nu!

Quite a case of hypercorrection there. It's the only song I can think of off-hand that mocks the English orthographic practice of silent letters, though possibly readers will think of others. Read the rest of Have some madeira, too: it's wicked.


Anonymous Bulbul said...

I remember zeugma from a literature course.Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock has one:

"Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last;"

6:51 AM  
Blogger C. Callosum said...

Thanks for the example, bulbul.

Apparently Alexander Pope was a master of the zeugma, since according to a quick Google search, there are several more zeugmatic instances in his Rape of the Lock, such as:

"Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey / Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes tea."

Among others.

5:30 AM  

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