Periphrasis


Periphrasis (per-if’-ra-sis): The substitution of a descriptive word or phrase for a proper name (a species of circumlocution); or, conversely, the use of a proper name as a shorthand to stand for qualities associated with it. (Circumlocutions are rhetorically useful as euphemisms, as a method of amplification, or to hint at something without stating it.)


Here comes God. Just because he won $5000 on Take Five’s evening draw, he thinks he has divine powers. He has easily spent $5,000 over the years on losing tickets. Where were his divine powers all these years as he racked up loss after loss? Also, he won the $5,000 on a quick pick without even choosing the numbers.

It’s amazing the links we forge in chains of causation. We posit ‘reasons’ as effects hijack or influence our lives—we seek motives behind luck and chance: God Loves me, I didn’t eat my vegetables, I am bad/good. The motive elevates the effect giving it moral import, when in fact, luck is luck and chance is chance.

As I turned to grab my beer, my mood candle toppled to the floor, falling from the mantle and soaking the carpet with hot wax. The irony didn’t escape me as I wrote it off to bad luck, and stopped there to see if I could resist my desire to ascertain what motivated the candle’s fall. Was it my fault? Then, unwillingly I started thinking of all the reasons I was to blame—from buying the candle at the Farmers’ Market, to lighting it and setting it on the mantle. In a remote sense, these things contributed to the candle’s fall and the spilling of wax on the carpet: having the candle, putting it on the mantle, lighting it.

Although I ended up attributing the candle’s fall to bad luck, if only I hadn’t bought the candle in the first place none of this would’ve happened and I wouldn’t be out $600 for the carpet’s cleaning. Then I remembered, the guy who sold me the candle told me he had a dry cleaning business and made candles as a hobby. He gave me his business card and, without thinking, I called him to clean my carpet. Damn! Why hadn’t I made this connection before: he sells ‘falling’ candles, gives you his card when you buy one, and then when you call him, charges $600 to clean up the mess. I called the police and they laughed at me: “Mr. Crayola is a regular George Washington. Your candle-thing is psycho.” I hung up, very angry. Then there was a knock on my door. I opened it slowly. It was Mr. Crayola holding a lit candle. “No police! You persist, my son will stick the burning candle down your throat!” Mr. Crayola yelled. His son was gigantic. I knew if I didn’t capitulate, I would die by candle-cide.

So, that was it. I went back to my life, but not until I had burned down Mr. Crayola’s dry cleaning establishment (with his son tied up in the back room). I fled to Costa Rica where there’s no extradition and opened a hobby shop.


Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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