Peter Bromhead: What's a polysyndeton?

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

"Go easy on your polysyndetons," advised my UK editor, reviewing my latest manuscript.

As usual, I instantly turned back into a dithery schoolboy facing my English master. "What's a polysyndeton?" I responded.

Of course, I could have looked it up in a dictionary, but preferred to test the patience of my editor, who after all, is engaged by me and, therefore, in my employment.

The reply was academic and to the point.

"Polysyndeton is from the Greek, meaning 'much compounded'. It's commonly the repetition of conjunctions. The most frequently used conjunction is 'and', which sadly, is your current problem."

My editor also included an extract from a scholarly critique of the work of Ernest Hemingway, scathingly stating he was particularly addicted to using "and" - suggesting that in extreme instances of this author's pseudo-biblical style, it became the equivalent of a "verbal tic".

No wonder Hemingway shot himself.

My editor is ex-University College, London. For some reason scholars from this particular institution seem to be experts in sticking the knife in deeper than most critics. I recall reading with relish the comments of Michael Burleigh, the distinguished historian and another ex-University College luminary, who suggested that the long-winded pontifications of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, should be subjected to a good subeditor, saying "tell me in 500 words, Archbishop, what do you really mean?"

He further proclaimed in press statements that the former Archbishop's views on cultural and religious diversity came across as nothing more than elliptical crap, adding that the churchman's opinions on this topic just made him appear "clever-stupid", as the Americans would say, or in European terms, an idiot-savant.

Thank heavens I live in New Zealand, where academics and the press are far more timid about putting the boot in.

At this point I ceased writing, to stop and count the "ands", terrified of developing Hemingway's tic.

I've never been a fan of his work, being too effete to appreciate all that macho stuff.

However, I do like the story about Hemingway drinking in an Iberian bar during the revolution, when gunmen burst in and shot dead a guy drinking at the bar.

An Englishman standing next to the victim stopped drinking, gasping with horror at the outrage. Hemingway sent a message via the barman to the distraught bystander, supposedly saying: "Papa doesn't care for people who blink."

- NZ Herald

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