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A book on the sale rack at Barnes and Noble caught my eye and I bought a copy for myself and for my twin niece and nephew. The book is Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. It is not about dating but about what the author, Dr. Mardy Grothe, calls "chiasmus" - the literary form of expressing ideas juxtaposed by reversing the order of words from one to the other, as in the title of the book. One of the most famous modern ones, of course, is JFK's "...ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy used chiasmus frequently, such as "Let us never fear to negotiate, but let us never negotiate out of fear" and "mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." Republicans are not without their own. Bob Dole has said "a government that seizes control of the economy for the good of the people, ends up seizing control of the people for the good of the economy." Jack Kemp said that economic equality must be achieved by helping the poor become rich, not by making the rich become poor.
I ended up not being able to send the book to the twins because it contained two or three chiastic expressions whose content was unsuitable for young eyes or ears. Nevertheless, the interesting educational thing is that reading not very far into this fairly thin book makes one start thinking in chiastic phrases, and it doesn't take long before you start making up your own, such as "When you are young, everyone else looks old, but when you are old, everyone else looks young." As you immerse yourself in thinking about them, they begin to immerse themselves in your thinking.
But chiasmus is not the only literary form or style that is infectious. It has long struck me that students would learn to write and speak better if instead of simply learning grammar, they read and analyzed and sometimes even memorized numerous passages from great speeches and great literature. This book about chiasmus has made me think that it would also serve students well to read, in different units, as many examples of great figures of speech and stylistic forms as possible also, so that they began to think in terms of them while they were studying each kind.
There seems to me to be a transference or carry-over result of such study into one's own writing. On one tv news magazine one time, a teacher explained that she had introduced her students to Shakespeare by pointing out some of the epithets or curses Shakespeare used. The students found them interesting to use on each other. They sought more in Shakespeare, and then they began to make up their own in Shakespearian style, rather than in the more simplistic style of the street. That led them to look for other elements in Shakespeare that they found just as interesting, though for the value of eloquence of insight rather than insult.
Students might even begin to notice, for themselves, patterns in different types of chiasmus, patterns which seem to have a bearing on their quality. For example, as I was reading through the collection in this book, some of them seemed clearly more interesting or more witty than others, and I happened to notice something about the least interesting of them. Those, to me, are ones in which two categories are mutually exclusive, In logic it would be expressed as no members of group A are members of group B, or "no A's are B's". This is logically equivalent to no members of group B then are members of group A, or no B's are A's. Thomas Macaulay wrote "There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles II. But the seamen were not gentlemen, and the gentlemen were not seamen." In other words he claimed no one was both a seaman and a gentleman in the navy of Charles II. Or consider the sports cliche that being a winner and being a quitter are mutually exclusive: "winners never quit; and quitters never win." The reasons these seem to me not to be of much interest is because in any mutually exclusive categories, no members of either are members of the other, so it is automatic that if no A's are B's, no B's are A's, and it is essentially just more redundant than clever to say it both ways. It might take insight to notice two things are incompatible, but not wit to state it as this form of chiasmus.
A second category which struck me as not particularly interesting is that in which some member of class A and of class B has some relationship in the conjunction of the classes, though not necessarily in either class alone. In baseball, one might say of some players that "they have great speed for their power and great power for their speed," though they may be neither the most powerful hitters nor the fastest base runners. One might say "my blind date last night was pretty good looking for a nice person, and pretty nice for a good looking person" without thereby saying much about how good looking or how nice in general the date was.
The most interesting forms of chiasmus seemed to me to be the ones like in the title of the book, where at least one of the terms relies on a different meaning when it is reversed, or as Queen Elizabeth said to Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco back to England from the New World: I have seen many men turn gold into smoke, but you are the first to turn smoke into gold.
There are other patterns of chiasmus in the book that students might notice which are of more interest than the first two patterns and less than the last, but one may also find that some of the best examples of the worst patterns are more interesting than the worst examples of the best patterns.
Often in school, students study metaphor or simile or other figures of speech or style, are given a few examples, and are then left to find them as they appear in whatever they are reading. Many of those found that way are puny and uninteresting. But if a collection of the richest, most beautiful, or wittiest metaphors could be studied, students would begin to invent their own because they see the possibilities and potential for combining insight, cleverness, and eloquence. Similarly with other figures of speech or styles of phrasing. Over a period of time, students would develop a rich repertoire of stylistic devices they actually use and enjoy.
And though, style is no substitute for substance, it can lend power
to the expression of good ideas. Style is a good tool to develop along
with logic and factual knowledge. Or, contrary to Keats, as one might say
in an essay on this topic: style without substance is beauty without truth,
just as substance without style is truth without beauty.