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Richard Nordquist

Are You Crazy? There's a Name for It

By November 23, 2009

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In our Glossary of Grammatical & Rhetorical Terms, you'll find a name for . . .

  • a modifying word that undermines or contradicts the meaning of the word, phrase, or clause it accompanies (such as "genuine leatherette"): weasel word

  • an utterance that has the form of a question but the force of a statement (Are you crazy?): queclarative

  • a clause that contains a subordinate (or embedded) clause: matrix

  • a simplified version of English spelling that omits letters not needed to represent pronunciation (as in lernng to read and rite): Cut Spelling

  • two words that differ in only one sound (such as writer and rider): minimal pair

  • a word or name that is secretly used to refer to a particular person, place, activity, or thing (such as Radiance and Rosebud, the Secret Service code names for President Obama's daughters): cryptonym

  • the view that grammatical constructions do not have strict boundaries but occur on a continuum: squish

  • a nonstandard verb form (usually the present participle) in which the base is preceded by the prefix a- (such as Bob Dylan's "I'm a-thinkin' and a-wonderin' all the way down the road"): a-verbing

You'll find examples and explanations of these and over 1,000 other language-related words and phrases in our Glossary of Grammatical & Rhetorical Terms.

More Words About Words:


November 23, 2009 at 11:33 pm
(1) Dan E. Bloom says:

richard N, is it possible that sarah palin suffers from a speech disoreder called anacoluthon

as you say? the way she speaks sounds like she has this disorder for life , beginning in childhood.

a reporter at NYTimes wants to know more about this from you, may i put her in touch with you and how? email me at danbloom in the gmail office

“John McCain’s maverick position that he’s in, that’s really prompt up to and indicated by the supporters that he has.”
(Sarah Palin, vice presidential debate, Oct. 2, 2008)

“[Heinrich] Lausberg’s definition makes anacoluthon a figure of style rather than a (sometimes expressive) stylistic weakness. As an error in style it is not always obvious. Ex: ‘He couldn’t go, how could he?’ Anacoluthon is only frequent in spoken language. A speaker begins a sentence in a way implying a certain logical resolution and then ends it differently. A writer would begin the sentence again, unless its function were to illustrate confusion of mind or spontaneity of reporting. Both functions are characteristic of interior monologue, and to the extent that Molly Bloom’s monologue [in Ulysses, by James Joyce] consists of a single unpunctuated sentence, it contains hundreds of examples of anacoluthon. ‘. . . I suppose she was pious because no man would look at her twice I hope Ill never be like her a wonder she didnt want us to cover our faces . . .’”
(B. M. Dupriez and A. Halsall, Dictionary of Literary Devices, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1991)
Pronunciation: an-eh-keh-LOO-thon
Also Known As: a broken sentence, syntactic blend

November 24, 2009 at 8:16 am
(2) grammar says:


Although I think it’s fair to say that during interviews (that is, in unscripted speech) Sarah Palin has sometimes exhibited dysfluency (a general term for speech that isn’t smoothly delivered or grammatically well formed), I’m not qualified to judge whether she suffers from a chronic speech disorder. (Anacoluthon, by the way, is not usually considered a chronic disorder; rather, it’s an occasional practice that we may all fall into–especially in times of stress.) For a credible diagnosis, you really should consult with a speech-language pathologist, not a rhetorician.

All the best–

November 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm
(3) Irfan Mirza says:

Your discussion with Dan aside, the title of the post and the subsequent definition of queclarative suggest that no matter how emotionally charged the statement maybe, as long as it is in the form of a question, it should be followed by an interrogation mark and not an exclamation mark.

November 24, 2009 at 6:04 pm
(4) grammar says:

Or better yet, an interrobang?!

November 30, 2009 at 10:33 am
(5) Dave G says:

Here we come a-caroling among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you.
And to you glad Christmas, too.
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.
And God send you a Happy New Year.

–I’m guessing the ‘Bob Dylan’ construction has its roots in old, old English!

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