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Author Topic: Expression Variety and Abundance
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Studying rhetoric, I came across a Renaissance rhetorical instruction textbook, Desiderius Erasmus's De duplici copia verborum ac rerum, 1512, "On the twofold abundance of expressions and ideas."

The text provides composition students a cornucopia of rhetorical models and examples for abundant and dynamic, eloquent and appropriate expression variety. The text's instruction was popular during the Renaissance and, though progressively diluted after and up through the mid twentieth century when such instruction methods were largely abandoned, is a foundation for composition and rhetoric instruction and learning.

Of course, this is not intended as an assignment, maybe a writing exercise worth consideration. Of note is a part of the text illustrates the abundance (copia) of variety possible for sentence construction. A vacuous sentence is revised hundreds of different ways: "Your letter pleased me greatly." Some are direct positive praise varieties, some are elaborate and hyperbolous, emotionally charged expression, some are ironic (litotes), possible negatively emotionally charged, given fitting context. The hundreds are by no means the whole set of possibles. Perhaps thousands or more other possibilities abound. The variety of emotional charge for the examples is a noteworthy study.

A link below to a brief, two-page PDF of an analysis of the rhetorical process and roughly a hundred examples for "Your letter pleased me." variations from the Copia:

Burton, Gideon. "On Copia." Brigham Young University. PDF.

A cite excerpted from the above PDF, itself a cite of a cite:

"Exercise in expressing oneself in different ways will be of considerable importance in general for the acquisition of style. . . . Variety is so powerful in every sphere that there is absolutely nothing, however brilliant, which is not dimmed if not commended by variety . . . [Boredom] can easily be avoided by someone who has at his fingertips to turn one idea into more shapes than Proteus himself is supposed to have turned into."

Erasmus, Desiderius. Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style: De duplici copia verborum ac rerum Commentarii duo, trans. and ed. Betty I. Knott, in Collected Works of Erasmus: Literary and Educated Writings 2, ed. Craig R. Thompson, vol 28. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978: p 302.

1978!? Rhetoric study is not yet entirely dead! Though a large number of narratives anymore are about as dead and bland-dull from lack of style. The least of which is emotional expression.

Consider there's more than one way to peal an apple, to construct a sentence, a narrative, to self-express ideas and style. Any sentence may have exponential possible variety.

[ March 23, 2015, 10:30 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Member # 8019

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How about a copia exercise then? Generally, this kind of exercise uses one of two ways to imitate a text: same voice, different content; or same content, different voice. Also, copia generally involves the rhetorical scheme of amplification, which is founded by addition, subtraction, transposition, and substitution schemes using adjective and adverb, noun, verb parts of speech and metaphor or simile figure revisions.

I can think of no more apt text for such an exercise than the proverbial "Chinese Rejection Letter," which illustrates all the above rhetorical principles.

"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that[,] in the next thousand years[,] we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

Any part or whole -- try to revise for difference in voice or content or both. Keep in mind the above is an emotionally charged and ironic commentary.

A sample c'est moi:

Our hidebound and imbecile editors appraised your copious manuscript with unfathomable amusement. Because they would be hard-pressed to consider any work more evidenced of illiteracy, they believe the like or worse could not see again the light of day before time's distant end. If they were to publish your progeny, no later example could they consider for rejection, as none could then be below their expectations. They pray your indulgence for their peckish and excitable discretion.

Or consider a similar attitude though concise, also, perhaps different subject content: a job application refusal.

Tragically, your application is wrought like a Walter Mitty daydream. Declined. Thank you. Please come again.

Maybe a "Dear John" rejection letter? Maybe an acceptance composition though perhaps expressed using courtly irony's praising with faint condemnation, or condemning with faint praise.

Maybe as well, consider a topic other than rejection and acceptance.

[ March 24, 2015, 09:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Our receptionist, eager to immerse himself in your opus, opened your excellent submission before it could be properly forwarded to our eagerly anticipatory staff of highly trained editors. So moved was he by the style of your unbelievable prose and unique grasp of grammatical forms and conventions, he burst into uncontrollable tears -- thus smudging your elemental contribution to literature. Be assured, if we were to receive a replacement, or another one of your submissions, we have the very real fear that it, too, would meet the same fate. Therefore, we regretfully plead with you to save your penny's, and your pens, and seek artistic expression in another line of work. Perhaps demolition is your true area of expertise.

Regards and Best Wishes,
Phil O'Buster.

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This is all a bit too dense to untangle when I'm left less than sure the payoff will be well worth it. But since you posted a followup, I'll be willing to respond to the topic if these two posts can be pared down to a single statement and, more importantly, a question.
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Grumpy old guy
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Let's try mangling The Bard.

Two bees, or not two bees? That's the question.

Aye, there's the itch.

And my personal favourite:

Damn, Spot! Out!


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Member # 8019

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Judicious imitation is the spice of originality.

Imitation is the exercise prompted here above . . .

. . . through copia, copious abundance, and more readily translated to copy. The rhetorical imitation exercise is one of the more useful, if not the most useful, methods for prompting creative expression development.

Can you imitate a favorite story opening line such that it is unrecognizable to its original expression?


"Call me Ishmael." Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

"Ishmael" translates to the outcast son of Abraham and Hagar, from Book of Genesis: exile, misfit, pariah, etc. "Call me" is in grammatical imperative mood, personal introduction, and implies a trace of subterfuge, perhaps insincerity, and also congenial familiarity. Those two central ideas of "outcast" and introduction focus upon a nexus for imitation.

A thought process for further rhetorical analysis: Same subject matter (content), different voice? Different content, same voice? Different content, different voice? Who is another pariah? Judas, Benedict Arnold, maybe.

Different grammatical mood? Other grammar moods are indicative, emphatic, and subjunctive.

Are additions of emotionally charged adjectives or adverbs warranted? Is a metaphor or simile warranted? Other rhetorical figures or schemes?

Is a different grammatical person warranted? First person plural, second person singular or plural, third person singular or plural.

We are labeled the Legion of Pariahs.

Name them how they will be known: They are Benedicts, traitors to their people.

Syndics name them Judah ben Judas Iscariots.

All are pale imitations of the original. Perhaps a more different content is warranted.

Call me no one; don't call me at all.

I could answer to "hey, you." I will answer to a supper summons no matter what you call me.

This is not an assignment: an optional exercise, and occasion to have a little fun with rejection letters, if that's the choice.

Grumpy old guy's rejection letter imitation is hilarious and original, thorough, fun.

[ March 25, 2015, 11:11 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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You're gonna call me whatever you want regardless, so let's just pick one. How about Ishmael. No real people were ever named Ishmael.

Grumpy: "Perhaps demolition is your true area of expertise." LOL!!!!!

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