Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Figures of Speech (Espy's Garden of Eloquence)

     Willard R. Espy. The Garden of Eloquence (1983) Espy made a name for himself as a language guru. Inspired by a copy of Henry Peacham’s Garden of Eloquence (1577), Espy decided to update and emulate that work, and contrived a fanciful Garden ruled by a Queen who handed out Awards to the various Figures of Speech that appeared before her. The book ends with excerpts from Peacham’s book covering the more strained and exhaustive/ing terms.
     The book’s a nicely produced object, printed on good paper, with witty illustrations by Teresa Peekema Allen. Espy includes asides in boxes, making for a patchwork text, an early version of what HTML was intended to facilitate. His illustrative quotations are apt, the narrative is just whimsical enough not to annoy, and the whole is a worthwhile reference book, if you need to look up and understand some obscure terminology.
     Espy, like Henry Peacham, was a collector, not a classifier, nor an analyst. The Figures are presented in alpha order, with no attempt to group them by function or purpose. Espy’s understanding of grammar is typical of the glossophile, an uncritical acceptance of the muddled terms and concepts learned in middle school. He wrote columns and books about the oddities and felicities of English, delighted in etymology, and collected slang and cliches. He provided many harmless hours of instruction and pleasure for those who look at language as birdwatchers look at birds: those wonderful creatures that make the world a more beautiful place.
     So while I occasionally cringed at Espy’s linguistic errors, I enjoyed the book. It will go on our reference shell. ***

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