Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Mastering Languages: Zeugma


When I was a child taking English lessons, I was told by an acquaintance that I need to put more effort into learning my own language because I would never be as good as a native speaker of English. Even as a little girl, I was annoyed by this comment which showed disapproval of my effort and that ultimately, despite all the energy I would put in, the final result would only be mediocre. I’m glad my reaction at the time was “He doesn’t understand. I’ll show him.”

I didn’t know how I would track my progress at the time. The obvious ones span from size of one’s vocabulary and loss of Japanese accent/adoption of an American accent, to ability to use idioms and comprehend situations where language must be put in cultural context. While I still find myself “less funny” when speaking in English, something I consider to be the final frontier in mastering a new language, I also enjoy learning clever word-use techniques.

One figure of speech that comes to mind is zeugma, a semantic syllepsis, where 2 or more parts of a sentence are joined with a common word but in a different sense of the word for each of the parts. Here is an  example: Yesterday I lost my lottery ticket and my temper (losing being the common word, used in two different ways in the same sentence for the 2 parts that followed).

I consider it a more intellectual version of a pun, the one that doesn’t make you groan.

Photo: Botanical Garden, Austin, Texas


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This entry was posted on June 1, 2015 by in language and tagged .
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