Litotes, Hedge-laying and the art of Rhetoric
I do like hedge laying in the car park at Dunsden church. For one thing the hedge is newly planted and one species (which makes for a highly satisfying final finish). For another it is of relatively even and well- spaced growth all planted at the same time, more or less. This makes it easy to lay, easy to prepare by trimming side branches thus resulting in a harmonious and firm end product. Looking at what we have achieved so far in several visits over a couple or more Winter-time sessions you get a certain inner feeling, almost a thrill of Man and Nature coming together. For me it delights the soul. What sort of music would go with this view and what to eat (or drink) to complete this almost sensual experience?
Well on this day I was on pruning and the subject of litotes came up. You can expect all sorts of things at a GG session. Well, naturally. When a lot of ex-teachers get together…………….what do you expect?
Always ready to rush home and look things up I found this one to mean
‘a figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite’
As usual the Greeks had a word for it, litos meaning small.
So, we have:
-‘hedge-laying at Dunsden is not a bad way of spending a bright Saturday morning’
– ‘I was not a little upset that I could not go that day’
Not so rough, eh? Hence teenager jargon, ‘wicked’, ‘sick’ etc. Trick is ‘not bad’ could mean just about OK or fantastic!
I think this all arose when Owl, Dove and Wren (I use their sobriquets in case of comebacks) and I were on either side of the hedge pruning and snipping as we chatted through the hedge when the subject came up.
I well remember another occasion, also hedge laying, along Pack and Prime Lane when I was the only one on the path side of the hedge. ‘Ah’, remarked Owl, ‘The Outsider’ (L’Etranger) and turning to Kingfisher ‘you know the book’. Kingfisher (being a retired French language teacher), well knew the allusion, the novel by Albert Camus on the subject of isolation and inner existence. Well it wasn’t quite as bad as that!
Back to litotes. This figure of speech is part of rhetoric the art of speaking to inform, persuade, or motivate an audience in different situations. You could talk all day about it. We use rhetorical devices every day. NB The Ancient Greeks talked all day whilst the slaves did the work.
My selection (out of a long list), getting into boring territory again,
Pleonasm-the use of unnecessary words to express an idea
‘It’s a true fact GG is a voluntary activity’
Zeugma-the use of a word grammatically related to two adjacent words, but inappropriate for one of them
‘I love my daughters and my GG tools’
Hyperbole-an obvious and intentional exaggeration
‘With a decent billhook you could clear the Black Forest in a double GG session’
Mmm. All part of sophistry, as beloved of politicians. ‘The act of making a plausible argument that is in fact fallacious’.