This week, my rhetoric students are charging into arrangement and style--the fun part of the semester. Their assignment for next time will be to write a brief piece called "My Favorite Trope." Here's one I wrote when I was at Pitt:
Like many Greek words for figures of speech, zeugma was borrowed for rhetoric from another practice: in this case the practice of sailing, or more specifically docking. Translated joining or bonding, zeugma was originally used to name the rope used to tie boats together at a dock. In grammar, too, zeugma involves using a verb (or adjective) to hook together more than one object or dependent clause. The verb functions as the grammatical rope, binding together the parts of a sentence. Zeugma thus enables economy even as it draws attention to the complexity or bendability of words. The most interesting instances of zeugma exploit multiple nuances of the verb, as in “I tried the salesman’s shoes, he my patience.” The result is often a surprise.
Journalists seem to love zeugma for its economy. Just before the 2004 election on NPR, an announcer observed, “With one week to go until the election, the candidates are spending their time and advertising dollars in the 11 key swing states.” If I were a journalist, a headline of mine would be “President Bush wasting time, lives.”
Because of its novelty and surprise, the zeugma can also be memorable and even funny, as with one satirical headline from The Onion from way back when the Clintonscandal broke, “President feels Nation’s Pain, Breasts.” (hat tip to my colleague JE for that one)
In the future when you hear the term zeugma, if you can’t recall the ropes that bound together the ancient boats, you might think about the ancient town of Belkis, situated at the southeastern edge of Turkey. When the Romans conquered Belkis in 64BCE, a town they saw as a bridge or link from Greece to Turkey, they changed the town’s name to nothing other than—you guessed it—Zeugma. Thus marks the binding, transformative power of empire, and language.