Discourse Matters: Where two or more features are gathered... (Odes 3:10)

Posted by Kris (with a "K") Have you ever wanted to make a point, and not have it go in one ear and out the other? Of course you have. We all want to be heard when we speak—but sometimes, due to the importance of some piece of information, we want to really be heard. As such, language speakers have developed certain verbal and non-verbal cues to garner attention and grab ears (e.g., talk slow, loud, use your hands).

Now in written language sometimes this stuff get's fleshed out differently. When you go to put your thoughts to on paper you immediately forfeit a number of mechanisms to get your point across that you had when tone, volume, gestures, etc., were at your disposal. Now you're left with things like repetition, overencoding, overspecification, word order variation, re-characterization, and the list goes on.

Two that we'll look at in just a moment are counterpoint-point sets and forward-pointing referents. But first, a word about each.

If I was giving you advice on how to become a better writer, which tip would come off as more handy:

  • Read good writing, like The Jabberwocky.
  • Don't read bad writing, like Breaking Dawn—read good writing, like The Jabberwocky.

Chances are, the second one. Now even if the advice doesn't make sense, I'd be surprised if you told me that the second piece of advice didn't stand out more, or have more of a lasting impression. The reason for this is simple.

Instead of just telling you to "Do X" I said "Don't do Y. Do X." The heart of my advice did not change, but the manner in which I said it, did. By using a foil I was able to draw more attention to the actual thing I wanted to say.

Since it was this latter element (the "Do X") that was my main point, and the foil which pointed to it, we call these types of relationships counterpoint-point sets.


We're ready to look at one of these in Greek now. (And yes—I lied... [Pause: What just came into your head? What is it you think I lied about? If you don't mind, leave a comment or reply to @oldschoolscript. There's no wrong answer.] Anyways, I lied: we'll talk about forward-pointing referents after we've looked at the example).

Our text comes from Odes 3:10. Try to find the counterpoint-point set as you read, and identify the forward-pointing referent if you can:

μὴ καυχάσθω ὁ σοφὸς ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ αὐτοῦ,

καὶ μὴ καυχάσθω ὁ δυνατὸς ἐν τῇ δυνάμει αὐτοῦ,

καὶ μὴ καυχάσθω ὁ πλούσιος ἐν τῷ πλούτῳ αὐτοῦ·

ἀλλʼ ἢ ἐν τούτῳ καυχάσθω ὁ καυχώμενος,

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The wise must not boast in his wisdom,

and the strong must not boast in his strength,

and the wealthy must not boast in his wealth;

but rather the one who boasts should boast in this: ... (LES)

This verse basically boils down to "Don't do X. Do Y". And so anything in the "X" category is superfluous to the main takeaway. The writer could have just said, "The one who boasts should boast in...." But the presence of the three prohibitions (the X-factor), makes the main point even bigger. They function as counterpoints to the point.

With the presence of a counterpoint/point set relation, the writer has already gone out of his way to draw more attention to the big idea. But the writer does something more. The writer turns this big idea into a BIG idea by throwing in a forward-pointing referent. In the Greek text, τούτῳ is your magic word. In English, it's "this".

A forward-pointing referent can be called such because that's exactly what it does: it stands in for some piece of information that's yet to be spoken, and hence points forward to the anticipated disclosure.

For the sake of illustration let's just say the writer wants you to boast in the combined weight of all your books, he could have said this in at least two ways:

  1. Boast in the combined weight of all your books.
  2. Boast in this: the combined weight of all your books.

It's the second option that 'ole Odes has chosen, and has thus drawn more attention to the nugget he wants his readers to really take in.

Summa summarum it should be evident now that when two or more features are gathered in the name of discourse, a really strong point can be made—especially when these features overlap in their pragmatic domains, like they do in Odes 3:10: each pointing forward to some undisclosed material. But I won't spoil the build-up of Odes 3:10. You'll have to go look it up yourself if you want to find the target of the forward-pointing referent, and the point of the counterpoint.

And just to be clear: it's got nothing to do with the weight of your library. But on that note, see the links below if you're interested in lightening that load but increasing the value.

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