I Heart Indies

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Apostrophe December 10, Figures of Speech

Apostrophe: Addressing an absent person or inanimate object as if it were present and capable of understanding.  Wild Bill famously uses apostrophe in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo standing under the balcony says, "Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon who is already sick and pale with grief."  Romeo isn't talking to the sun, which would be an apostrophe in itself, but to Juliet, who, though he can see her, hasn't spotted him, and evidently doesn't hear him, although he's reeling off yards of iambic pentameter right under her window.  Comparing her to the sun is a metaphor, while ascribing emotions to the "envious" moon is personification.  (Parenthetically, is it also foreshadowing?  Is Romeo unwittingly inviting his own death, that if Juliet is the sun, he must be the moon, since he only comes out at night and he himself is sick and pale and he's "mooning" after her?  But I digress.)
If Keats doesn't think this is a bird,
I'd like to know exactly what he
thinks a bird is.
Keats also uses apostrophe in "Ode to a Nightingale," "Hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert."  (Again, parenthetically, Keats is dead wrong about the nightingale, that it never wert a bird, a bird is exactly what it wert.)  The Romantic poets generally were big on apostrophe, always talking to West Winds, dead ladies, and sunsets and stuff.  Check it out.
But apostrophe is not limited to Wild Bill and poets who go around talking to nightingales and using words like "wert."  You can hear apostrophes made all the time, the man who addresses his insensate car on a cold morning when the battery is weak and the engine is weakly growling and sputtering, "C'mon, c'mon, start!"  The commuter who curses at the driver who just cut him off changing lanes.  "You %@#!!"  Is it apostrophe when people talk to their pets?  Usually no, we have a reasonable expectation that Rover understands when we say, "Come!" or "Bad boy!" even if he doesn't respond.  Once, however, I overheard a woman rebuking her dog, "No barking?  Now what have I said about this?"  Now that's apostrophe.

How apostrophe came to be a punctuation symbol, I honestly cannot discover.  The comes from a Greek root apostrophos, "to turn away."  (Perhaps the punctuation is so named because of its curved, "turning away," shape?)  (Parenthetically, an apostrophe does not have to address an absent or insentient being, any "turning away" from the stream of discourse, as in a digression, is also an apostrophe.  This includes parenthetic remarks such as this one.)

No comments:

Post a Comment