Huh: Quirks and Perks

The vice of aschematison (plain, non-metaphorical language) in titles.

Plain is a vice too


Forget figures of speech. Avoid them all. Speak cleanly, and commit no rhetorical crimes. What remains is aschematiston.

But that, too, is a vice.

Aschematiston comes from the Greek, meaning without form or figure, and technically it designates not only plain-speaking but also the inappropriate use of figurative speech.

In Trying to Be Cute, I discuss how one way to think about vices (the coin model), considers licit rhetoric to lie between the extremes: the ordinary and any of the various ornamented styles. Most of us know overwrought when we see it, but aschematiston is harder to spot. In particular, sometimes it’s not clear whether a literal interpretation is called for, or whether there’s a hidden metaphorical dimension after all. I termed this phenomenon the metaphorical itch. I often encounter it in surrealist literature, but it’s also present in contextually ambiguous situations.

The last batch of my Nature Magazine  headlines falls into this category. See what you think.

  1. Eating ourselves dry
  2. Economy in the toilet 
  3. Frozen fruit cake
  4. How to build a better dad
  5. How to suck like an octopus
  6. Winged wonder

My first reaction was: Huh. 

What are your guesses: which ones are literal, which metaphorical? What about their subjects? (My answers below.)

If you’ve stuck around on Quiver Quotes for the last three weeks, then you’ve seen approximately 80 headlines drawn from 40 issues of Nature.

That’ll do for a while.

I think it’s time to read on—past the title.




Straight literal:
   3. Antarctica cake discovered,
   5. Mechanism behind octopus suckers.
Literal in context:
   1. Does human consumption deplete water resources,
   2. Turning human excrement into useful products,
   4. Genetic contributions to fatherhood in mice.
   6. The mosquito.

Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

2 thoughts on “Huh: Quirks and Perks”

  1. I like the use of the word ‘overwrought’ . I might post a story one day – with photographs – of a blacksmith making wrought iron articles. When he hammers the iron on the anvil it can be ‘wrought’ into useful and beautiful shapes. But hammered too hard or excessively it become brittle, thin and fragile. Don’t hit the iron too hard with the hammer or you might hurt your hand,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, most things that get hammered, stretched, twisted a bit far end up useless or destroyed … however, even though overwrought has the negative over- connotation, it still sometimes makes me think of filagree jewellery, lace, or paper cut outs, which are thoroughly impractical but have aesthetic value in certain situations …

      Liked by 1 person

Questions? Comments? Reading recommendations? Let me know.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: