Song of the Silk Road is author Mingmei Yip's third novel for Kensington Books. I know Mingmei from my teaching days at the New School, and it's always a pleasure to see a new book of hers come out. In a previous post on B&N BookClubs, I've talked with her about her second novel, Petals from the Sky, and her favorite grammar peeve, the demise of "whom."
So I'm a fan, and I eagerly opened Song, which immediately delighted me with Mingmei's turns of phrase. Whether a character exclaims,"I'd rather die a goddess of adventure than a waitress of no venture!," is "looking for someone to turn a lonesome into a twosome," or is commenting, "old Chinese horny with young American honey," she always makes me smile.
Wordplay is fun, whether it's switching "rn" to "ne" to go from "horny" to "honey" or playing with parallelism with the "-ess" endings of "goddess" and "waitress," the prefixes "ad" and "no" and "venture," or inverting syllables in a string of words, like moving "some" from front to back: "someone" to "lonesome" and then switching to "twosome."
That last play, moving "some" from prefix to suffix, called to mind my all-time favorite wordplay, chiasmus. Chiasmus refers to the switching of placement of grammatical forms, one for the other. The order of the grammar forms in one piece is inverted in the second piece.
Think of quips and quotes such as these:
We should eat to live, not live to eat.
It's not the men in my life,
it's the life in my men. --Mae West
The word chiasmus comes from the Greek letter chi, X. If you drew lines connecting "men" and "men" and "life" in "life" in the quote above, it would form an X, or a chi.
And think of
Ask not what your country can do for you,
ask what you can do for your country. --JFK
Chiasmus is a powerful rhetorical device, and a powerful lot of fun as well.
Check out more about chiasmus here, the website of Dr. Mardy Grothe, where I discovered much of what I know about chiasmus: http://www.chiasmus.com/whatischiasmus.shtml
What's your favorite chiastic phrase?
Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.