[DWJ] Tropes (was: trolling for ideas/suggestions)

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Wed Dec 6 19:15:40 EST 2006


Minnow wrote:
> Ika wrote sadly
>
>   
>> I always get confused about this, and have stopped using both the word
>> 'trope' and the word 'topos' as a result. My understanding is that
>> 'trope', from the Greek word for 'turn', refers to a rhetorical figure
>> whereby words 'turn' away from their literal meaning (so among the
>> main tropes are metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, and irony); 'topos',
>>     
> >from the Greek for 'place', refers to a literary commonplace - for
>   
>> example, the 'storm topos' in epic (Homer did a good description of a
>> storm, so Apollonius of Rhodes did one too, and then Vergil, so now if
>> you write an epic you have to do a good storm to show that you're
>> writing epic and/or to demonstrate your allegiance to/difference from
>> your predecessors).
>>     
>
> I was trying to explain how "trope" is used by Clute and thus by extension
> by most SF and fantasy critics, rather than how it might properly have been
> defined in the first place.  I suspect the "new" usage of being the result
> of back-formation, and having its origin in Sarraute's coinage "tropism"
> having been somewhat misunderstood in translation, meself.
>
>   
>> But EVERYONE IN THE WORLD seems to use 'trope' to mean 'topos' now, so
>> I've given up on both of them on the grounds that my definition and
>> common usage seem to have parted ways for good.
>>     
>
> The definitions and uses of "trope", insofar as they are comprehensible at
> all, seem to vary somewhat from book to book, writer to writer, in the
> references on lit.crit. that I have in the house.  I think it's definite
> Humpty-Dumpty, and the word must be taken to mean what any particular
> writer wants it to mean for the time being, and I just hope they pay it
> *lots* extra on Fridays when it comes round for its wage-packet (and take
> the time to define their usage beforehand).
>
> Such things are generally past praying for, like computer-terms that mean
> something quite different from what that word used to mean in English, or
> the confusion that now exists between "doubt" and "question" in the the
> phrase "there is no doubt/question that...", which is made even more
> confusing by "there is no doubt/question but that..." It used to be that
> "there is no question that he is a liar" meant he wasn't a liar, "there is
> no doubt that he is a liar" meant he was one; now, "there is no question
> that he is a liar" seems to mean that he is one, and "there is no doubt
> that he is a liar" isn't used any more.  Very strange.  I put it down to
> "question" having more syllables and thus being obviously more "class" if
> one is unsure about usage.
>
> Avoiding the problem by simply not using either word or phrase is probably
> the only safe way round it all.  The trouble is that the language is
> smaller for this, and our choices are reduced each time a good and precise
> word or phrase becomes an ambiguous one through misuse.
>
>   
If such attrition were the only process at work, yes. But logogenesis 
continues apace, however much the curmudgeons might dislike to the results.

Colin




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