Imagine reading ‘He was happy as a corpse’ or ‘Her laughing feet fell overboard with amusement’ funny sentences with literally imaginative meanings. This kind of misapplied reasoning in literature is known as catachresis. This Penlighten post helps you understand the meaning of catachresis further with examples.
A more comical and absurd form of Catachresis is abusio where two metaphors are used simultaneously to produce mixed metaphor. e.g. It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.
Linguistic scholars will often frown at the misapplication of words and phrases that totally twist out the meaning of any given sentence but famed authors and poets have used this literary figure of speech to convey subtle messages or to enhance the reading experience. Catachresis is a combination of hyperbole (exaggeration) and synaesthesia (union of sensations) and is exemplary use of imagery speech which at times can be used to deliberately create humor.
In literary terms, a catachresis is an error in language. For most grammatical case, it regards using a word in the awry context or straining the word’s meaning from its traditional norm.
Catachresis: is a figure of speech that uses mixed metaphor or is the misuse or strained use of words to create an error or rhetorical effect. It is often used intentionally to create a unique grammatical construction or an exaggerated comparison between two themes or objects.
According to Oxford dictionary it originated from mid 16th century Greek word katakhrēsis or katakhrēsthai which means misuse or abuse. The subtype of Catachresis is known as Abusio in Latin also meaning abuse.
Characteristics & Functions
★ A entirely inconceivable figure of speech or an entailed metaphor that results from blending other distinct figures of speech such as anthimeria, hyperbole, metonymy, and synaesthesia.
★ Using words in the wrong sense or out of its traditional context. e.g. Can’t you hear that? Are you blind?
★ Creating a paradox through words popularly known as oxymoron e.g. calm storm, dry ice.
★ Usage of mixed metaphors to convey deep meaning or expression. e.g. ‘Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse.’ – Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens
★ Using unnecessary simile. e.g. ‘There she stood on stage for all to see, showing off like greedy songbird she was’ – Movie Amadeus
★ In poetry, it is used by misusing phrase or word to intentionally create a mixed metaphor. Poets use it extensively to achieve a stylistic effect or exert great contraction in both comic as well as serious sense.
Examples in Literature
1. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep
― Hamlet – William Shakespeare
2. A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green..
― On Revenge – Francis Bacon
3. Mow the beard,
Shave the grass,
Pin the plank,
Nail my sleeve…..
― Peri Bathous – Alexander Pope
Examples in Poetry
1. With just the Door ajar
That oceans are-and Prayer-
And that White Sustenance-Despair
― I Cannot Live With You (Poem 640) – Emily Dickinson
2. The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses –
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands….
― somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond – E.E. Cummings
Examples in Movies
1. “Honey, you are a regular nuclear meltdown. You’d better cool off.”
― Susan Sarandon – Bull Durham
2. “I’m the producer of this show. If I didn’t step up, you’re nowhere. I put this thing together on a spit and polish”..
― Dustin Hoffman – Wag the Dog
3. “Mr. Jensen feels we’re too catastrophic in our thinking. I argued that television was a volatile industry in which success and failure were determined week by week. Mr. Jensen said he did not like volatile industries and suggested with a certain sinister silkiness that volatility in business usually reflected bad management.”
― Robert Duvall – Network
1. He looked at the price and his pockets ran dry.
2. She grabbed the bull by the horns of dilemma.
3. I will speak daggers to her.
4. The little lady turtled along at twelve miles per hour.
5. We went soundseeing today.
It’s definitely a successful trope that engages the reader by providing vivid imagination along with confusion to draw attention and reveal the subtle meaning.