Revisiting Hypallage

Today I revisited my 2016 post on reasonable and hypallage (here). In trying to make sense of that post, I revisited hypallage generally. Be warned: that’s what this post is about.

In the Ben Zimmer item (here) I link to in the previous post, here’s how Ben describes hypallage:

Hypallage (pronounced hy-PAL-uh-jee, rhyming with analogy) is a literary device that in its more general sense refers to the “reversal of the syntactic relation of two words,” as the Visual Thesaurus defines it. The kind of hypallage on display in distracted driving also goes by the name of “transferred epithet”: the adjective distracted properly modifies the noun driver, but it gets transferred to another noun, driving. The Webster’s New World PR points out that drunk driving also exemplifies hypallage, and it no doubt serves as the model for the neologism distracted driving.

In my previous post I also mention that in Garner’s Modern English Usage, at 474, Bryan Garner says that hypallage “is a figure of speech in which the proper subject is displaced by what would logically be the object (if it were named directly).” In a comment to my previous post, reader A. Wright Burke says that Garner’s explanation is baffling. Belatedly, I agree.

Regarding the Garner example I quoted, angry fights, A. Wright Burke says as follows:

Hypallages quickly die or freeze. Garner’s “angry fight” is dead, if one admits that “angry” can mean “exhibiting a characteristic or creating a mood associated with anger or danger, as by color, sound, force, etc. [as in] *an angry sea*; *the boom of angry guns*”. No transference; the fight is directly angry.

That caused me to revisit Garner’s entire list:

  • angry fight*
  • black colleges
  • cruel comments*
  • cynical view*
  • disgruntled complaints*
  • drunken parties*
  • elementary classroom
  • English-speaking countries
  • feminine napkin
  • gay marriage*
  • Greek neighborhood*
  • handicapped parking
  • hasty retreat*
  • healthy foods*
  • humble opinion
  • nondrowsy cold medicine
  • overhead projector
  • permanent marker
  • provincial attitude*
  • unfair criticisms*
  • vulnerable period
  • well-educated home

I’ve marked with an asterisk those entries that I suggest aren’t examples of hypallage. For example, if you post a comment to this post in which you say, “Adams, you ferret-wearing shitgibbon, shut yer traphole!,” that would be a cruel comment. *sob* Yes, you yourself would be cruel for saying it, but that doesn’t preclude the comment itself from being cruel, without any transference.

The same goes for healthy foods. If for lunch I have a quinoa-and-kale salad, perhaps I’m eating healthily, but that doesn’t preclude the salad from being healthy, without any transference.

With that sorted out in my mind, I’ll now revisit, and revise, what I had to say about reasonable and hypallage. Belated thanks to A. Wright Burke for his comments.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.