There was an Old Man of Coblenz,
The length of whose legs was immense;
He went with one pronce,
From Turkey to France,
That surprising Old Man of Coblenz.
What makes it funny? What relations are distorted for the sake of the humorous effect?
This rhyme is an example of figures of quantity, which according to Skrebnev are considered the most primitive type of renaming as their basis is disproportion of the object and its verbal evaluation. There are two main relations possible - those of over- and understatement. The figures of quantity include these: hyperbole, meiosis, and litotes.
Read the limerick the drawing illustrates
There was an Old Man in a Barge,
Whose nose was exceedingly large;
But in fishing by night,
It supported a light,
Which helped that Old Man in a Barge.
The logical and psychological opposite of hyperbole is meiosis, or understatement.
Meiosis (Greek - "lessening") is a deliberate use of understatement, the aim of which is to lessen, weaken, reduce the real characteristics of the object so that to show its insignificance.
A specific form of meiosis is called litotes.
Litotes (Greek - "plainness, simplicity") is an understatement that shows the insignificance of the object by means of a peculiar use of negative constructions, due to which the assertion of a positive feature is generated by denying the opposite or contrary of the word or expression which otherwise would be used. As a result, the positive feature is somehow diminished by the negation.
The structural pattern can be as follows:
N. / Adi. / Adv. (the notional part should be
~ negative either in form or in meaning)
Analyse the structure, the semantics and the functions of litotes:
1. "To be a good actress, she must always work for the truth in what she's playing," the man said in a voice not empty of selflove. (Mailer)
2. It was not unnatural if Gilbert felt a certain embarrassment. (Waugh)
3. I was quiet, but not uncommunicative: reserved, but not reclusive: energetic at times, but seldom enthusiastic. (Bunyan)
4. He had all the confidence in the world, and not without reason. (O'Hara)
5. Kirsten said not without dignity: "Too much talking is unwise." (Christie)
6. I felt I wouldn't say "no" to a cup of tea. (Mansfield)
7. "J don't think you've been too miserable, my dear." (Priestley)
8. Still two weeks of success is definitely not nothing and phone calls were coming in from agents for a week. (Ph. Roth)
Distribute the examples of figures of quantity in accordance with the type they belong to (hyperboles, meioses, litotes):
1) "Yeah, what the hell." Anne said and looking at me. gave that not unsour smile. (Warren)
2) The girls were dressed to kill (Braine)
3) Newspapers are the organs of individual men who have jockeyed themselves to be party leaders, in countries where a new party is bom eveiy hour over a glass of beer in the nearest cafe. (Reed)
4) The idea was not totally erroneous. The thought did not displease me. (Murdoch)
5) Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and everybody smiled ... To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well. (Jane Austen)
6) The car which picked me up on that particular guilty evening was a Cadillac limousine about seventy-three blocks long. (Baldwin)
7) Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse. (Jonathan Swift)
8) "It isn't verv serious. I have this tinv little tumor on the brain" (Salinger)
9) Four loudspeakers attached to the flagpole emitted a shattering roar of what Benjamin could hardly call music, as if it were played by a collection of brass bands, a few hundred fire engines, a thousand blacksmiths' hammers and the amplified reproduction of a force-twelve wind. (Saxton)
10) Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old. (Fitzgerald)
11) She was a giant of a woman. Her bulging figure was encased in a green crepe dress and her feet overflowed in red shoes. She carried a mammoth red pocketbook that bulged throughout as if it were stuffed with rocks. (O'Connor)
12) A figure lean or corpulent, tall or short, though deviating from beauty, may still have a certain union of the various parts, which may contribute to make them on the whole not unpleasing. (Sir Joshua Reynolds)
13) "No. I've had a profession and then a firm to cherish." said Ravenstreet. not without bitterness. (Priestley)
14) Babbitt's preparations for leaving the office to its feeble self during the hour and a half of his lunch-period were somewhat less elaborate than the plans for a general European War. (Lewis)
15) I wouldn't say "no" to going to the movies. (Waugh)
16) The little woman, for she was of pocket size, crossed her hands solemnly on her middle. (Galsworthy)
17) If anyone comes to me. and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26 (NASB))
18) We danced on the handkerchief-big space between the speak-easy tables.
19) She was a sparrow of a woman. (Larkin)
20) And if either of us should lean toward the other, even a fraction of an inch, the balance would be upset. (Wilde)
21) He smiled back, breathing a memory of gin at me. (W. S. Gilbert)
22) She busied herself in her midget kitchen. <Capote)
23) The rain had thickened, fish could have swum through the air. (Capote)
Figures of quantity can often be the final effect of another stylistic device as in:
"He didn't appear like the same man; then he was all milk and honey - now he was all starch and vinegar." (Dickens)
In this sentence the hyperbole appears on top of metaphor.