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In response to my question about a "term for exchange errors in the mapping from thematic roles to syntactic positions" (in "Thematic spoonerisms"), Jerry Friedman pointed us to hypallage. The OED's first citation for this word is to George Puttenham's 1589 The Arte of English Poesie:

1589 G. Puttenham Arte Eng. Poesie iii. xv. 143 The Greekes call this figure [Hipallage]..we in our vulgar may call him the [vnderchange] but I had rather haue him called the [Changeling].

So I looked up the book, and the context is so much fun that it deserves to be reproduced in full.


Of auricular figures working by exchange.

[Sidenote: Enallage, or the Figure of Exchange.] Your figures that worke auricularly by exchange, were more obseruable to the Greekes and Latines for the brauenesse of their language, ouer that ours is, and for the multiplicitie of their Grammaticall accidents, or verball affects, as I may terme them, that is to say, their diuers cases, moodes, tenses, genders, with variable terminations, by reason whereof, they changed not the very word, but kept the word, and changed the shape of him onely, vsing one case for another, or tense, or person, or gender, or number, or moode. We, hauing no such varietie of accidents, haue little or no vse of this figure. They called it Enallage.

[Sidenote: Hipallage, or the Changeling.] But another sort of exchange which they had, and very prety, we doe likewise vse, not changing one word for another, by their accidents or cases, as the Enallage: nor by the places, as the [Preposterous] but changing their true construction and application, whereby the sence is quite peruerted and made very absurd: as he that should say, for tell me troth and lie not, lie me troth and tell not. For come dine with me and stay not, come stay with me and dine not.

A certaine piteous louer, to moue his mistres to compassion, wrote among other amorous verses, this one. Madame, I set your eyes before mine woes.

For, mine woes before your eyes, spoken to th'intent to winne fauour in her sight.

But that was pretie of a certaine sorrie man of law, that gaue his Client but bad councell, and yet found fault with his fee, and said: my fee, good frend, hath deserued better counsel. Good master, quoth the Client, if your selfe had not said so, I would neuer haue beleeued it; but now I thinke as you doo. The man of law perceiuing his error, I tell thee (quoth he) my counsel hath deserued a better fee. Yet of all others was that a most ridiculous, but very true exchange, which the yeoman of London vsed with his Sergeant at the Mace, who said he would goe into the countrie, and make merry a day or two, while his man plyed his busines at home: an example of it you shall finde in our Enterlude entituled Lustie London: the Sergeant, for sparing of hors-hire, said he would goe with the Carrier on foote. That is not for your worship, saide his yeoman, whereunto the Sergeant replyed. I wot what I meant Iohn, it is for to stay And company the knaue Carrier, for loosing my way.

The yeoman thinking it good manner to soothe his Sergeant, said againe, I meant what I wot Sir, your best is to hie, And carrie a knaue with you for companie.

Ye see a notorious exchange of the construction, and application of the words in this: I wot what I meane; and I meane what I wot, and in the other, company the knaue Carrier, and carrie a knaue in your company. The Greekes call this figure [Hipallage] the Latins Submutatio, we in our vulgar may call him the [under-change] but I had rather haue him called the [Changeling] nothing at all sweruing from his originall, and much more aptly to the purpose, and pleasanter to beare in memory: specially for our Ladies and pretie mistresses in Court, for whose learning I write, because it is a terme often in their mouthes, and alluding to the opinion of Nurses, who are wont to say, that the Fayries vse to steale the fairest children out of their cradles, and put other ill fauoured in their places, which they called changelings, or Elfs: so, if ye mark, doeth our Poet, or maker play with his wordes, vsing a wrong construction for a right, and an absurd for a sensible, by manner of exchange.


  1. Christian Weisgerber said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 4:50 pm

    but kept the word, and changed the shape of him onely

    Wow, what happened there? Old English stuck to the general IE rule that neuters have the same nominative and accusative form, so it's not simply an archaism. Did this fluctuate over the history of English? (Yes, I know the possessive of it used to be his, but that's irrelevant for the object form.)

  2. Paul Turpin said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 5:46 pm

    One notes the nice use of "maker" for poet, from Greek poetes "maker, author, poet,".

  3. RP said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 6:46 pm

    "Him" is from an Old English dative rather than accusative, and that dative form was the same for neuter as for masculine.

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 10:07 pm

    Puttenham seems to have also used "he" for words or syllables, at least in one passage.

    "And a sound is drawen at length either by the infirmitie of the toung, because the word or sillable is of such letters as hangs long in the palate or lippes ere he will come forth, or because he is accented and tuned hier and sharper than another, whereby he somewhat obscureth the other sillables in the same word that be not accented so high, in both these cases we will establish our sillable long…"

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 2:55 pm

    I think of "maker" (also spelled "makar") for "poet" as Scots, as in

  6. RP said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

    @Christian Weisgerber,
    Under "him" 2, the OED says "As direct object, indirect object, or object of a preposition. a. The thing personified or conventionally treated as male (as a mountain, a river, a tree, the sun) or (in early use) the thing grammatically masculine, previously mentioned or implied or easily identified. … In Old English (and early Middle English) also as the dative of the neuter hit (see it pron.). In English regional use, referring to material things without personification (now rare)."

    The OED isn't always very helpful on dialect usage but the last sentence implies that regionally, the use of "him" as an objective form of "it" continued into modern English.

    Most of the examples under 2a are of personification, but there are some that may be relatively recent non-personified neuters. I can't think of any reason why a bonnet would be personified (and the fact that the quote is from a book about English dialect is also suggestive):

    1875 A. Porson 'Notes Quaint Words Dial. S. Worcs.' 25 My ooman put her bonnet there last year, and the birds lay'd their eggs in him.

  7. RfP said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 7:20 pm

    In 1947, Sister Miriam Joseph wrote what you might think of as a modern version of Puttenham called Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. I can’t recommend it highly enough for people who are interested in hypallage and its kindred. Right before her chapter on Shakespeare’s use of “The Vices of Language,” she discusses “The Schemes of Grammar,” including a section on schemes of construction:

    “The schemes of grammatical construction are refashionings of language for variety and force. They give a certain poise and balance, and differ from ordinary speech as dance steps or the movements of ceremony and ritual differ from a walk.”

    “In English, where word order exercises an important grammatical function, the various forms of departure from the ordinary order, called in general hyperbaton, frequently confer both emphasis and distinction. The Tudor rhetoricians distinguished various species of hyperbaton: anastrophe, tmesis, hysteron proteron, hypallage.”

    “In hypallage, the changeling, as Puttenham named it, the application of words is perverted and sometimes made absurd. Waking from the effects of the magic flower-juice, the bewildered Bottom tries to recall his most rare vision.

    The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. (MND, 4.1.215)

    By the use of hypallage in this instance Shakespeare achieves the tone of grotesque wonder suited to the situation without incurring the risk of mockery of the Scripture (1 Cor. 2:9) which might otherwise have resulted. Bottom seems to be addicted to this misplacing of words whether he speaks as Pyramus or for himself.

    I see a voice. Now will I to the chink,
    To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face. (5.1.194)

    Will it please you to see the Epilogue, or to hear a Bergomask dance between two of our company? (5.1.359)

    The magistrate’s comment clearly indicates that Shakespeare is using hypallage with conscious intent to reveal the confusion of Elbow, the constable, who brings Pompey before Escalus and Angelo, sitting in judgment.”

    I was turned on to this book by a Richard A. Lanham, in the introduction to Style:An Anti-textbook:

    Story #2. “Look it up in the index to Sister Miriam!
    IN MY FIRST YEAR of graduate school, I found my professors using Latin and Greek terms I had never heard of to describe verbal patterns. Words like isocolon and zeugma and homoioteleuton. When I asked more seasoned students what these words meant, I was always told, “Look it up in the index to Sister Miriam.” This enticing advice pointed toward a book titled Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language, by Sister Miriam Joseph, C.S.C. It was an eye-opener. Maybe, for me and in retrospect, the eye-opener.

    What I found there showed me a new way to read Shakespeare, and indeed all of literature. I saw not the customary Shakespeare of profundities, moral and political, but a Shakespeare infatuated with language and playing wild games with it just for fun, creating characters who would never say “I don’t like it” when they could say “It is most retrograde to my desire.” Sister Miriam’s analysis of Shakespeare’s language also planted in my mind, though the tree did not grow until later, a different way to teach prose composition, a way which emphasized pleasure rather than duty, which allowed words to escape from the penalty box and get back to skating. Out of that effort grew the present book.”

  8. RfP said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 7:27 pm

    Because my last comment was already pretty long, and because Lanham’s book may be slightly off-topic for this post, I’m entering another comment to promote Style: An Anti-Textbook.

    There is a lot of controversy about written style, and I’ve read a lot of really good books about these issues. But Lanham’s book—well, to echo his comment about Sister Miriam, this book “was an eye-opener. Maybe, for me and in retrospect, the eye-opener.

    Here’s a sample of what Lanham is up to in this book:

    “This book seeks to provide both a preface to the study of prose composition and a context for it. It argues that the premises from which the study of composition now departs—clarity, plainness, sincerity—are incomplete and seriously misleading. It suggests alternative premises and an alternative pedagogy, and is thus about both prose style and the teaching of prose style, addressed to both student and teacher. It also suggests that the study of style has objectives more profound, and more enjoyable, than simply the faithful and useful communication of concepts. It seeks to supply, that is, new purposes for stylistic study as well as new premises.

    This is not a textbook, then, but a counterstatement to the textbooks now in use and the widespread attitudes they express. It is neither a practical guide to better prose, a handbook of dos and don’ts, nor a scholarly analysis, historical or schematic, of prose styles. It aims, rather, to provide a framework within which such books can be studied with more profit than they are now.”

  9. RfP said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 7:39 pm

    And I see that I left out the comments of the magistrate, which belong at the end of my above quote from Sister Miriam:

    Elbow. [to Pompey] Prove it before these varlets here, thou honourable man; prove it.

    Escalus. [to Angelo] Do you hear how he misplaces? (MM, 2.1.88)”

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 16, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

    The specific sort of switcheroo hypallage attributed to Shakespeare in the excerpt posted above was in a more recent century sometimes employed by Dylan Thomas ("the man in the wind and the west moon") and, perhaps not by coincidence, Bob Dylan ("he just smoked my eyelids / And punched my cigarette").

  11. Jonathan said,

    July 17, 2019 @ 11:21 am

    RIP – I really liked your comment(s) and am planning on tracking down Sister Joseph's.

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