Abbaser [George] Puttenham’s English term for tapinosis. Also equivalent to meiosis: reference to something with a name disproportionately lesser than its nature (a kind of litotes: deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying its opposite).
I had an uncle who spent his time “cutting things down to size.” He called the Empire State Building a pile of bricks blocking the sun. He called Mickey Mantle the “Stick Swinger.“ He called President Eisenhower “Spike” instead of “Ike.” He called his Ford his “Fraud.” He called his wife (my Aunt Betty) his “Strife.” He called Wisconsin (where we lived) The “Empire of Cheese.” The list of his “size cutting” names goes on forever—there are hundreds and hundreds of them.
I admired my Uncle, so tried my hand at “cutting things down to size.” My teacher, Mrs. Grinney, had bad breath. So, I started calling her “Boiled Brussels Sprouts Breath.” I tried to get it to catch on with my friends, but it didn’t and somebody told her. I got two weeks detention writing: “I will not make fun of people with bad breath.” So, I stopped making fun of people—“cutting them down to size.” My next target was my town’s municipal building, named after somebody named Dodge. It was where the police and fire stations were, along with the town court. It was a beautiful building made from pink granite. I called it “Dodge City” after the cowboy town where everybody was bad. Our town was notoriously corrupt. The police never arrested anybody unless they were poor. The firemen sat on their asses playing poker night and day. Their motto was “The fire truck wouldn’t start, and besides, I had a straight flush.” The town judge was married to the local Mafia Don’s sister. You can imagine how that played out.
I first used “Dodge City” in a speech I made to my English class. My fellow students didn’t know what I was talking about, but my teacher did. He made me stay after class and told me if I used “Dodge City” again, there would be dire consequences and they would go “Bang, bang, bang.” He was the Don’s brother.
So, I stopped cutting things down to size, and started writing poetry instead. My first poem “Under Hot Asphalt” won the “Up and Coming New Comer Coming Up” prize from “Marginal Notes” a very prestigious literary journal. It is the oldest continuously published journal of its kind, first published in 1590. Shakespeare had first sonnet published in “Marginal Notes” in the late 16th century. I’m so glad my teacher steered me away from cutting things down to size “bang, bang, bang.” I probably would’ve ended up like my Uncle, found in a landfill two days after he called the police chief, the “Police Thief.”
Definitions courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text added by Gorgias.
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