Monty Python’s Flying Circus

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They’re back. The comedy group that ran from 1969 until 1983, spreading laughs, stitches and tears across the world, has recently announced a reunion show at the O2 arena in London.

The collective of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin are rejoining to perform a show 20 years after their break up. I hope you’ve all seen them at some point, although I am aware that 20 years is a long time, and maybe you’re too young to have experienced the pure ecstasy in their comedy; if that’s the case – and even if it is not – I recommend watching this video:

What we just watched was funny, yes, but it also has some interesting language elements to it. The use of clever language in comedy is nothing new, but the way in which Monty Python used it so effectively is something rather impressive.

To start with, we have paradiastole, which is turning a negative into a positive,  usually by way of a euphemism. In this way you can avoid what some would consider bad, vulgar or offensive topics by referring to them in a polite and subtle way; as John Cleese does in the video while trying to talk about the other person and his, ahem, derriere.

Epanorthosis is the quick correction or replacement of a word, “thousands, no millions!” The epanothosis refers to the words that correct the mistake, so in the example above it would be “millions.”

Syncatabasis in Greek means to “go down together with,” and is usually in reference to the condescension of God; however in language it refers to the adoption of a level or style suitable for the audience addressed.

Grandiloquence, or verbosity, is speech that is deemed to use an excess of words. It’s judged to be pompous and bombastic, unnecessary and usually discouraged by writers and readers alike.

Pleonasm is similar to grandiloquence, but it is defined as the use of more words or word-parts than is necessary for clear expression; some are very common in language today, such as “tuna fish” and “safe haven.”

Synonymia is the use of several synonyms together in the same clause or sentence. One could create the same type of sentences by using a thesaurus, but I feel it is rather excessive, exorbitant, needless, redundant, superfluous, undue and indulgent.

Auxesis is a form of hyperbole that intentionally overstates something or implies that it is greater that what it is; “Jeans That Can Lengthen Legs Hug Hips & Turn Heads.” Meosis is the opposite, to say say something that understates a fact.

Paralipsis is giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, “not to mention their unpaid debts of several millions.” It comes from the Greek “to leave aside.”

Paraprosdokian, the unexpected ending or truncation of a clause which reframes the meaning of the first part, often producing an anticlimax. “If I’m reading this graph correctly – I’be be very surprised.”

Lastly, we have Apheresis, Apocope, and Syncope; the loss of sounds from the beginning of a word, the end of a word, and the interior of a word, respectively. I don’t think I could possibly give as good example as the one in the video, perhaps now is a good time to watch it again…

Can you think of any other examples of these figures of speech? Do you know any others that weren’t mentioned here?