Seven deadly signs

William Blake, Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest (1824-7)

When in the midst of our life’s way I’d crossed,
I found myself inside a forest drear,
Because the direct path was long since lost.

I took a look around and I could see it was no mere forest. There were no trees blocking the view, no overgrowth hiding the path. I was in the middle of a sentence. A suspension point, words hanging, not like fruit, but like gallows. I was surely afraid.

The ancients used to call it silva rhetoricae. I call it the forest of eloquence, the forest of signs. But there was no eloquence therein. Instead, a wilderness of letters scattered on the verdant ground. Deadly signs all around.

I could see the ivy-like leaves of parelcon, a species of tautology, superfluous words adding nothing, doing little, hampering my walk.

Raising my head, I glimpsed traces of soraismus, a rhetorical vice long identified as the throwing together of words from different languages, without purpose and without skill, only for the sake of affectation. A kind of kitsch rising itself against morphological beauty.

Next, I marvelled at the fruits of acyron, that which happens when a word is abused to mean something contrary to its established significance.

It felt senseless, and I kept walking, silence covering me like a protective cloak. I felt safe, but I knew I wasn’t. For standing just a few feet from me was the spectre of bomphiologia, the enemy of humility, which sees that everything is described in a bombastic manner, beyond measure, sense and logic. Compared to it, hyperbole, its erstwhile handmaiden, stands not much higher than litotes, its ancient adversary.

I couldn’t stop. I knew that if I did, I’d succomb to hypallage, which reverses the order of words in an unnatural way.

All these creatures of ineloquence and inelegance stared me in the face as I made my way through the thicket.

The presence of paroemion gave me pause. Introducing itself as an extreme kind of alliteration, as when every word in a sentence starts with the same consonant, it was unbearable to hear its plea. I bowed in silence and made my way to what soon revealed itself as the centre of the forest.

There stood a table made of black marble. On it were offered for sacrifice, by the invisible hand of a pontifex, all the sons and daughters of stylistic beauty and grammatical propriety. A repulsive cacophony floated over this solecismic Mass, twisting every word and every phrase in a sad contorsion.

I turned around and it was all gone. I opened my eyes and my hands grabbed the edge of my bed, in horror. Punctuation failed me.

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