Lashing the Wind

With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders; but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strengths.

Samuel Johnson

When I hear the word “trope”, I reach for my revolver.


Attention bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers:

Tropes are not themes. Tropes are not images. Tropes are not motifs.


It is not just my 1971 A Dictionary of Literary, Dramatic, and Cinematic Terms, 2nd Edition that defines “trope” as “What is literally impossible may, through figures of speech (also called tropes), be highly interesting, significant, and moving.”

The online Glossary of Rhetorical and Grammatical Terms defines “trope” as

“(1) Another term for a figure of speech. (2) A rhetorical device that produces a shift in the meanings of words — in contrast to a scheme, which changes only the shape of a phrase. Also called figure of thought.”

“My love is a red rose” is a trope. Unless, your loins quiver at the sight of the flower. Then the phrase is literal. And you’re a fetishist.

Time travel is a motif. Unless all those people in all those time travel stories are having very elaborate hallucinations.

Vampires are not tropes. Vampires are motifs of fantasy and horror. (Unless you’re talking about that guy who leeched the life out of you at the last party you went to. That’s a trope.)

I will accept the substitution of “theme” for “motif” even though “theme” technically means the message, action, or thesis of a work.

Those big reference books on science fiction from the 1970s,  The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, used “theme” and not “trope”. It has started to infect the latter though.

I’ll grandfather “theme” in as a substitute for “motif” since I’m used to it.

And this is my rant.

This pretentiousness and grammatical laziness really took off in the 1980s — about the time I escaped college.

And it’s not just you damn kids. Lots of you old English profs should know better.

I bet you all use “impact” too ’cause you can’t keep “affect” and “effect” straight.

I’m through lashing the wind now.

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One thought on “Lashing the Wind

  1. Pingback: The Reality Dysfunction | MarzAat

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