Today’s Word: Hypallage

On our latest show, we discussed hypallage (hye-PAL-uh-jee), a.k.a. “the transferred epithet,” which occurs when a modifier’s misplaced or misapplied, as in a worrying development. (The development isn’t actually doing the worrying–someone else is.)

Garner’s Modern American Usage has more examples, including feminine napkin. (Technically, the napkin’s not feminine–—that is, you can’t turn it over like a puppy and check to see.)

On a flight yesterday, I ran into an another example. A sign in the lavatory read: airsick bags. Gee, I hope not!

Hypallage’s often used for rhetorical effect. Merriam-Webster calls it “an interchange of two elements in a phrase or sentence from a more logical to a less logical relationship”– as in “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” when you really mean to say is “to waste a mind is a terrible thing.”

So I’m not all that worried by the phrase a worrying (as opposed to a worrisome) development. ButI leaned away from those airsick bags just in case.

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