Tuesday Terminology: Enallage

You ain’t got you nary any writing skills until you seen this literary device.

And, no, that’s not bad grammar—it’s enallage. The difference is intent (as with most grammar-defying constructs). I began this post with an obviously incorrect line to grab attention, and that’s the core of today’s term.

  • enallage: intentionally making grammar mistakes for characterization or to create (or use) a catchy statement [Note: There’s a wider definition we won’t discuss here.]

For example, in American culture the phrase “You ain’t seen nothing yet” is well known—and also wrong. But part of what makes it memorable is the brash defiance of the rules. It’s a rebel sentence. Newspapers, magazines, and advertisers often use these (sometimes with excessive quotation marks) to capture the culture or for humor.

As is normal, you should definitely approach this with caution. Some readers don’t like authentic dialect (which is a type of enallage) or an abundance of grammar-bending buzz phrases, as both tend to wear thin with overuse. So, be sure that your use of this device makes sense for the work.

By the way, intentional spelling errors are often considered neologisms or metaplasmus and not enallage. We’ll talk about this later.

For now, hows about yous guys hit me with your favorite enallage?


3 thoughts on “Tuesday Terminology: Enallage

  1. You pays your money, and you takes your chances. And don’t give me no back-sass.

    You know, I’m not a grammar historian, but I seem to remember that there was a time when double negatives were accepted in common English usage. Anybody want to chime in on that?

    I, for one, still use them in everyday speech, but not in business, etc.

    • You are absolutely right. Old forms of English used to allow double negatives as an intensifier, which makes sense. More recently, the language has changed to exclude these from standard practice, though they are still reluctantly allowed in some settings for such sentences as this: I can’t not help him.

      Oxford dictionary writers claim it is because of math rules that English has changed to negate the negativity. For more, go here.

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