Merismus (mer-is’-mus): The dividing of a whole into its parts.
Not every whole has parts, but can you call something a whole if it does not have parts? What about Moses parting the Red Sea? Or, me parting my hair? Then there’s the bomb that blows things apart. Dividing a whole into its parts implies that it has parts in the first place, and the division is of concepts or entities that are correctly construed as the bound-together ensemble ‘making up’ a given whole.
In discourse, there are many good reasons for dividing wholes into parts. And also, from a different perspective, assembling parts into wholes, like an IKEA adventure, or a Christmas dollhouse, or stringing beads onto a necklace. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about wholes. Their division makes things easier to remember, for speaker and listener. It gives a discourse the sense that it’s going somewhere as each part lapses and fades into the next. In addition, the part/whole division gives the discourse a suspenseful aura by building in the anticipation of what’s next by proffering previewed parts. Let me demonstrate:
This is an orange. It is spherical, and guess what? It is orange. Ha ha. It has four parts: the skin, the fruit, the seeds, the stem. I’ll be covering each part in the order I just listed them. So first, the orange’s skin. . .
If you think about it, you can divide just about anything into parts, even if it makes you bitter, angry, and depressed. Take my first marriage, for example. It had three parts: 1. We got married, 2. She cheated, 3. We got divorced. See, I don’t even need to go into detail to give you a clear picture of what happened. Now, let’s look at my most recent business catastrophe: 1. I took out a government-backed small business loan, 2. Nobody wanted popcorn coconut smoothies, 3. I went bankrupt, 4. I am in debt up to my ass until 2030.
Well, there you have it. You know the old saying: If you have the parts you have the whole. This in itself can be a further employment of the part/whole strategy: you can deter people by showing them they don’t have the parts: If your shoe does not have laces, you can’t go for a comfortable walk. So, forget it. Oh, I can sell you some shoelaces. How badly do you want to go for a comfortable walk? A lot? Not much? Not at all?
Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu)
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