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hendiadys 2In the unlikely event that any neo-cons read this, some will pore through the atlas with sound and fury; others will try and reroute the Pacific Fleet; while a few more will summon the 82nd Airborne to drop and rain down mass destruction. But they will be disappointed. The Hendiadys is not a group of Russian islands in the Black Sea; it is a figure of speech, and the first sentence deploys three examples.

The stately hendiadys (pronounced hen-di’-a-dis) comes from the Greek: hen/one, dia/through, and dis/two, meaning “one by means of two.” It sails through writing and speaking, grandly and fully self-consciously, like a mighty trireme departing the harbour of Rhodes, or a procession of powerful rabbis leaving Herod’s temple—and both cultures knew the hendiadys well.

It is used, quite intentionally, to impart grandeur and gravitas to thoughts that deserve it. So the Old Testament abounds in them, of course, and Shakespeare ordered them in job-lots—he supposedly crammed more than sixty into Hamlet alone.

Your basic hendiadys merely stuffs in the word “and,” in order to make two thoughts from one. Hence “come and get it,” instead of “come get it.” Or, in every rural diner, “Honey, my coffee is nice and hot,” rather than “my nice hot coffee.” Thus every cheerful redneck waitress is linked to the Old Testament and the Classical World.

The author of Exodus (15:4) describes “the chariots of Pharaoh and his army” instead of, merely, “Pharaoh’s whole army.” Isaiah (4:5) says “cloud and smoke” when a lesser writer may have scribbled “cloud of smoke” because, after all, most smoke comes in clouds. We are told that In “Lamentations 2:9, the Hebrew says ibbad v’shibar, literally translated as “ruined and broken,” but the phrase means ‘totally destroyed.’” However the biblical author rose above any temptation to write “totally destroyed,” or, even more mercifully, “like, totally destroyed, dude!”

Nobody knows if some Hebrew exporter brought his precious stock of hendiadys all the way from Jerusalem to trade with Greece and Rome, or if they had already developed it on their own, by repeating Homer’s poems long before they bothered to write them down. I bet the latter. But there “are many examples in Virgil’s Aeneid, e.g., Book 1, line 54: vinclis et carcere, literally translated as ‘with chains and prison’ but the phrase means “with prison chains.’”

Yet cloth-eared modern writers, possibly because they are so far divorced from the spoken word, tread roughly on the hendiadys and hurt its feelings. “For example, cum amicitia atque pace, literally with friendship and peace, is often translated instead as ‘with peaceful friendship.’” Imagine yourself to be demonstrably posh, several thousand years old, accustomed to socialising with the very finest writers, and being treated like that! As Yiddish speakers say, Feh!

hendiadys 3Yet great modern writers befriend the hendiadys, especially those who are speechwriters or who have an affinity with the sound of words, such as American Southerners aplenty; William Faulkner may have shared his library, and his bourbon, with a whole merry family of them. After all, he gave them a book title, The Sound and the Fury; partly because he borrowed it from Shakespeare (Macbeth 5:5 – “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury”), but also because, had he entitled it The Furious Sound, then he would have felt like a doofus, and rightly so.

Actually, Faulkner must have endeared himself to every hendiadys when he dropped two definite articles into his title—“the.” It provided a pair of Tudor page-boys to accompany Macbeth’s hendiadys, to make the procession look all the more important: The Sound and the Fury. Grateful, they must have followed Faulkner with their tongues hanging out and their hendiadic tails wagging.

A particularly perceptive analyst writes that the hendiadys, “has the effect of using language in order to slow down the rhythm of thought and perception, to break things down into more elementary units, and thereby to distort normative habits of thought and put them out of joint. Hendiadys is a kind of rhetorical double take, a disruptive slowing of the action so that, for example, we realize that the hatching of something is not identical with its disclosure.…” He seems correct, but its origins are still most likely in the spoken word: in oratory, but even earlier in storytelling. There the unexpected stately cadence would have earned audience attention even more than on the printed page. It would have worked like spoken italics.

But just as many of Europe’s royal families had illegitimate offspring, the venerable Clan Hendiadys has relatives whom they rarely mention. One supposedly crops up in the 1980 comedy film, The Blues Brothers, between Dan Ackroyd and Sheilah Wells:

Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we got both kinds. We got country and western.

Okay, it is jarring and makes one think; it uses the required conjunction; it surely appears to be a hendiadys and it is funny, to boot. But once you have grown accustomed to hanging out with the likes of Virgil, Faulkner, Shakespeare and the authors of the Old Testament, well… I suppose… every family has one.

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Published: Jan 1, 2015
Stephen Masty
Stephen Masty (1954-2015) was a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative. He was a journalist, a development expert, and a speechwriter for three US presidents, British royalty and heads of government in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He spent most of his adulthood working in South Asia including Afghanistan, and he was a writer, poet and artist in Kathmandu.
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