Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's word: battology

Anyone who has slogged through Genesis chapter 11 (especially in the King James version) understands battology. A large chunk of that chapter looks something like this:

10 These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: 11 And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. 12 And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah: 13 And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. 14 And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber: 15 And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. 16 And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Unicron: 17 And Eber lived after he begat Unicron four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters and robots in disguise. 18 And Unicron lived eight hundred years, and begat Optimus Prime and Megatron. 19 And Unicron lived after he begat Optimus Prime two hundred and nine years, and begat other transformers, including the Gobots. 20 And the Gobots begat nothing worthwhile. 21 And the sixties begat Michael Bay, who lived twenty years before discovering the offspring of Hasbro. 22 And Michael Bay lived after discovering the offspring of Hasbro three and twenty years, and begata horrible monster of a film. 23 And that horrible monster of a film begat a seemingly endless string of explosive, gratuitous sequels with enormous plot holes.
Optimus Prime
Evangelists often quickly gloss over Bible verses that mention Optimus Prime. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
All those begats, and living so-and-so years and begetting other sons and daughters, over and over again. It's difficult to read because it's so repetitive. And that's battology.

Battology is the repeated (and often annoying) repetition of particular words or phrases in speech or writing. It comes from the Greek battos ("stammerer") + logia ("oral or written expression").

Not all instances of battology are ugly or unwanted. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech is certainly battological. As is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?"

But on the whole, we usually notice battologies only when they become intolerably bland.
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