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*14töy, you. . . I ougfita'. . . ": Aposiopesis and the Natural Language oft/ie (Passions, 1670-1770 ROBERT G. DIMIT 66TT 7hy, you ... I oughta'. . .": this formulaic expression of anger is VV probably most familiar to readers today either from "Three Stooges" shorts and Warner Brothers cartoons, or from David Letterman's facetious asides on late-night television. The device has a much longer and more serious history than these particular examples suggest, however, one that reveals much about eighteenth-century ideas concerning language and the display ofthe passions. In this article I consider the use of this device in imaginative writing between the 1670s and 1770s as a sort of test case for the claim, widespread then, if counterintuitive for many of us now, that rhetorical figures constitute the "natural Language ofthe Passions."11 trace the changes in theoretical discourse on passional language during this period, and show how the primary argument supporting the naturalness of rhetorical figures was co-opted by those who rejected rhetoric for its lack of naturalness. The device used in the phrase, "Why, you... I oughta'...," is the figure known in classical rhetoric by such names as "aposiopesis," "reticentia," "obticentia," "interruptio," and "praecisio."2 Heinrich Lausberg describes this figure as "the omission ofthe expression of an idea, made known by breaking off a sentence already begun, sometimes also explicitly confirmed afterwards."3 Thus, when we hear, "Why, you... I oughta'...," we understand, "Why, you little rat. I oughta' punch your lights out," or something similar. 161 162 / DIMIT There is more to aposiopesis, however, than the simple truncation of a grammatical structure. Aposiopesis implicitly communicates the sense ofthe unspoken parts ofthe statement, but it also communicates the intensity ofthe speaker's passions. Quintilian observed that "aposiopesis ... itself displays the passions: either anger ... or anxiety and, as it were, scruple . . .," and illustrated the use of this figure with a passage from the Aeneid: "Whom I— but better first to calm the waves."4 At this point in Virgil's epic, Juno has enlisted the help ofthe winds to stir up a storm that will drive Aeneas's fleet back from the shores of Italy. The aposiopesis occurs when Neptune, roused by the violence ofthe storm, summons the winds and angrily rebukes them. Here is the full speech as it is given in John Dryden's 1697 translation: Audacious Winds! from whence This bold Attempt, this Rebel Insolence? fs it for you to ravage Seas and Land, Unauthoriz'd by my supream Command? To raise such Mountains on the troubl'd Main? Whom I------But first 'tis fit the Billows to restrain, And then you shall be taught obedience to my Reign."5 "Quos ego..." or "Whom I...," then, communicates anger and an implied threat of physical violence, just as "I oughta'..." does. While it may be unlikely that David Letterman's writers have ever borrowed directly from Quintilian or Virgil, early modem rhetoricians did so regularly. The "quos ego" passage was the standard example of aposiopesis in European rhetorical manuals published during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many such works included this example in their discussions of aposiopesis; some also repeated Quintilian's claim that this figure is particularly suited for the display of certain passions.6 The broadest claims for the passional expressivity of aposiopesis and other figures were made by Bernard Lamy, in his De Tart de parler. Published anonymously in 1675 and translated into English the following year as The Art of Speaking, this text established the terms for Westem European discourse on the "natural language ofthe passions" during the century that followed.7 It is true that classical writers had sometimes linked certain figures to the display of specific passions, as Quintilian had done with aposiopesis, and that early modem rhetoricians before Lamy sometimes followed their ancient models in this as in other matters. But Lamy went beyond them by treating the display of the passions as an essential rather than a merely accidental attribute of rhetorical figures, by attributing this passional function "Why, you...I oughta'..." / 163 to all figures rather than a selected few, and by explaining this function in terms of Cartesian passional theory. Since typologies of rhetorical devices vary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 161-176
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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