Saturday, 8 July 2017


Bdelygmia (thanks to TYWKIWDBI for enhancing our vocabulary) is the name for a rhetorical term that’s an appeal to the emotions that signifies more or less what one would expect from such a retching sounding word: a litany of abuse, a heap of insults.
From the Greek for filthiness, it’s a series of carefully crafted epithets (sloppy constructions generally fail to sustain a feeling of enmity with the audience and can often backfire, portraying the name-caller as cruel or juvenile) meant to engender hatred for the maligned target and channel the threat of physical violence. An example of a harsh but not provoking invective comes from lyricist and populariser of the limerick Edward Lear in ranting about a noisy neighbour to a confidant in 1859, “A vile, beastly, rottenheaded, foolbegotten, brazenthroated, pernicious, piggish, screaming, tearing, roaring, perplexing, splitmecrackle, crashmecriggle, insane ass of a woman is practising howling below-stairs with a brute of a singingmaster so horribly that my head is nearly off.” It’s a standard device employed in factional politics and the weapon of choice for bullies of all venues, though most contemporary instances of bdelygmia are not so persuasive. No matter what sort sophistry and abominations are deployed, it is not rhetoric if it does not attempt to reach out to an audience to change minds and win support. Effectively only re-enforcing convictions already held is mere artlessly dangerous pandering and can move anyone to violence so disposed.