or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thinking Back

So I was in the shower today and mulling over yesterday's blog post and it occurred to me with considerable surprise that in discussing "hysteresis", I had forgotten to mention "hysteron proteron".


If you've ever studied rhetoric, you will have come across this term, because it's a figure of speech. If not, we can still figure it out logically. We know (from yesterday) that "hyster-" in this context means "to lag", and even if we don't know what "proteron" means, we can guess that the "pro-" prefix means "first" or "before" (either temporally or physically), which is what it so often means in English, and the rest of it is a duplicate of the first word. So "hysteron proteron", we would logically guess, means something like "behind before", and this, you will surely be pleased to learn, is more or less exactly what it means.

Hysteron proteron is a figuration of speech which uses a reversal of time to emphasize the a particular event or object in the timeline: an event which ought to follow another is instead placed before it. You might say, for example, "He put on his shoes and socks". A more elegant example appears in Virgil's Aeneid: "Let us die, and rush into the heart of the fight." (I don't suppose I have to explain that this reversal stresses the fact that the Trojan warriors are expecting to die in battle.)


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