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Bdelygmia: The Perfect Rant


Bdelygmia: The Perfect Rant

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas," by Dr. Seuss (1957)

Early in 2007, disturbed by reports of John Edwards' $400 Beverly Hills haircut, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts expressed his exasperation at the "fake authenticity" practiced by today's politicians:

I do know a con when I see one. And in politics, I see them all the time.

We are courted by blow-dried, focus-grouped, stage-managed, photo-opped, sloganeering, false-smiling, hand-clasping, back-slapping would-be leaders who say they feel our pain and understand our concerns and maybe sometimes they do, but all too often, it seems they feel little and understand less.

Superficiality gleams in their perfect teeth and scripted lines. They work hard to make style look just like substance.
That's good, vigorous writing: a pair of short, direct sentences on either side of a classic bdelygmia.

A classic what? Pronounced "de-LIG-me-uh" and derived from the Greek word for "abuse," this rhetorical device is a form of invective: an exuberant rant, a litany of disparaging remarks, a string of stinging criticisms.

Back in 1604, King James I of England employed bdelygmia in the conclusion to his "Counterblaste to Tobacco":

A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the Nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.
Bdelygmia remains a potent verbal weapon. You could often hear it unleashed on MSNBC when newscaster Keith Olbermann identified the "Worst Person in the World." Or on HBO's Real Time when comedian Bill Maher announces "New Rules." Or on the radio when Rush Limbaugh launches into a rant against liberals.

But what may be the best known modern specimen of bdelygmia falls well outside the realms of politics and social commentary. It's a song, composed 40 years ago by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) for the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. An extended litany of abuse, the song concludes:

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch,
You're a nasty wasty skunk,
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote,
"Stink, stank, stunk"!
"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" may not be the most sophisticated lyric ever composed, but then bdelygmia is not a particularly sophisticated rhetorical device. It's up front and in your face.

And while it may be ignited by anger or frustration, the sheer excess (or hyperbole) of bdelygmia--of insults and aspersions piled sky high--often creates a comic effect in the end. So take a deep breath before letting it all out with bdelygmia--and proceed with caution.

You'll find additional examples of bdelygmia in our Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms.

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