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Archive for January, 2011

Capitalizing on Emphasis

So my friend Chris and I were talking. And because we are Nerds we got to trying to label some literary terms. This is the sort of thing for which I keep a copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms at my desk. Irritatingly, it’s the opposite approach for which the book was designed — which is all alphabetic with no index. So give me a term and I can look it up. But it’s a bit harder to look for a term based on the function that term has.

The stickler term was when you capitalize a phrase to create a proper noun. Usually this is done for emphasis, and even more often this emphasis is used at least a little ironically, to point out Pomposity or Overthinking the Issue. A. A. Milne did it a lot in Winnie the Pooh stories.

Now, to be clear, there are some terms we looked up that are similar but which Are Not Accurate:

Metonymy is where you use a phrase describing an aspect of something as a replacement for the something itself. Ie, it’s like saying “by the sweat of your brow” to tell Adam he needs to start working hard if he wants to survive.
My sister, who is a scientist Master of Poetry (meaning she has her master’s degree, in poetry composition) wants to insist that this is personification. However, I could say The Holocaust was a Very Bad Thing and I don’t think there’s much comparing to a person there at all. Though I suppose a person (let’s continue the trend and say it’s Hitler) could also be a Very Bad Thing.
One list of terms I saw called this simply “emphasis.” This smacks of weaksauce to me, however, and I refuse to accept that there isn’t a more specific term for this literary device.
Note that this is not the same thing as labeling Pooh as The Bear of Very Little Brain (which is antonomasia – using a descriptive label in place of an actual name). It is however, exemplified by “My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”
We also decided that it wasn’t as simple as denomination (giving a Proper Name to an object) or its ilk.
Sobriquet (a given nickname, as opposed to a pseudonym which is a chosen nickname) was also suggested, but I shot it down because capitalized term or phrase can also be literal. The sentence often makes sense without the emphasis or tone lended by capitalization.
I thought I was on track when I found Archetype Name. However, that refers to the person, place, or thing which is thought to have lent his/her/its name to proper name category, like The Fisher King.

So in the end I came up short. Instead, I started coming up with new names. I considered metonymic personification but rejected it for much the same reasons that I rejected its component terms. However, emphatic archetyping settled with me better. Though perhaps I’ll leave it as simply archetyping.

So literary nerd friends, I Call Upon You to help me find this name. Tell me what this literary stylistic device is supposed to be called. Or, if I’m right and there really is no specific term for it already extant, lets do some neologistic work.

After all, this is really Important Stuff.