A postdating for the OED – with thanks to Kingsley Amis

What other words are there for stickler, pedant or pundit, Lonneke van Leest-Kootkar asked in a blogpost last year. Rebecca Gowers, in Horrible Words (2016), chose to use the word griper instead of stickler (a word I will always associate with Lynne Truss). But here is another one! It is an old one, possibly revived by Kingsley Amis, so on your guard, OED editors!

I’m analysing Amis’s letters to the editor for my book English usage guides: The biography of a genre (nearly done now!), and I found one from 23 February 1985, in which he refers to himself as “a spotter of popular catachreses”. My rusty knowledge of Greek wasn’t much help here, but the OED was: the word means “Improper use of words; application of a term to a thing which it does not properly denote; abuse or perversion of a trope or metaphor”.

And as an inveterate OED user, I checked the quotation dates: 1589 (Puttenham) to 1810 (Coleridge). Did Amis revive the word? Perhaps, but look at the warning in red: not yet fully (?) updated yet! So, OED editors, here is a really nice postdating of the word, thanks to Kingsley Amis.

And what I’d be interested in is the question whether he really did revive the word, or whether any quotations can be found to fill the gap between 1810 and 1985.

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3 Responses to A postdating for the OED – with thanks to Kingsley Amis

  1. Paul Nance says:

    I’m sure others can do better, but here is the lazy man’s interdating, done before breakfast and tea, with thanks to Google Books: https://www.google.com/search?q=catachresis&tbm=bks&source=lnt&tbs=cdr:1,cd_min:1810,cd_max:1984

  2. Alon Lischinsky says:

    There are a few hits in COHA for the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, so I suspect the word was alive and kicking among the few people who have reasons to discuss rhetorical tropes using the technical terminology.

    My own first encounter with the term was in Umberto Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics (1975), where it’s repurposed* to mean a dead metaphor, that is, one so established that their metaphorical character is no longer evident to speakers (think of expressions such as ‘the legs of a table’ or ‘the foot of a bed’). Since Eco’s influential work appeared in English translation in 1976, Amis’ usage may be connected to it.

    * Actually, Eco’s usage is quite close to the original definition by the Stoic rhetoricians.

  3. So an even earlier one!

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