Epithet has remained over the centuries the most widely used SD, which is understandable - it offers ample opportunities of qualifying every object from the author's partial and subjective viewpoint, which is indispensable in creative prose, publicist style, and everyday speech. Through long and repeated use epithets become fixed. Many fixed epithets are closely connected with folklore and can be traced buck to folk ballads (e.g. "true love", "merry Christmas", etc.). A number of them have originated in euphemistic writing of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (e.g. "a valiant youth", "a trembling maiden", "dead silence", etc.). Those which were first found in Homer's poetry and have been repeated since, are known as Homeric epithets (e.g. "swift-footed Achilles", "rosy-fingered dawn").
The structure and semantics of epithets are extremely variable which is explained by their long and wide use. Semantically, there should be differentiated two main groups, the biggest of them being affective (or emotive proper). These epithets serve to convey the emotional.evaluation of the object by the speaker. Most of the qualifying words found in the dictionary can be and are used as affective epithets (e.g. "gorgeous", "nasty", "magnificent", "atrocious", etc.).
The second group - figurative, or transferred, epithets - is formed of metaphors, metonymies and similes (which will be discussed later) expressed by adjectives. E.g. "the smiling sun", "the frowning cloud", "the sleepless pillow", ''the tobacco-stained smile", "a ghpst-like face", "a dreamlike experience". Like metaphor, metonymy and simile, corresponding epithets are also based on similarity of characteristics of - two objects in the first case, on nearness of the qualified objects in the second one, and on their comparison in the third.
In the ovei vvhelming majority of examples epithet is expressed by adjectives or qualitative adverbs (e.g. "his triumphant look" = he looked triumphantly).* Nouns come next. They are used either as exclamatory sentences ("You, ostrich!") or as postpositive attributes ("Alonzo the Clown", "Richard of the Lion Heart").
Epithets are used singly, in pairs, in chains, in two-step structures, and in inverted constructions, also as phrase-attributes. All previously given examples demonstrated single epithets. Pairs are represented by two epithets joined by a conjunction or asyndetically as in "wonderful and incomparable beauty" (O.W.) or "a tired old town" (H.L.). Chains (also called strings) of epithets present a group of homogeneous attributes varying in number from three up to sometimes twenty and even more. E.g. "You're a scolding, unjust, abusive, aggravating, bad old creature." (D.) From the last example it is evident that if a logical attribute (which in our case is the word "old") is included into the chain of epithets it begins to shine with their reflected light, i.e. the subjectivity of epithets irradiates onto the logical attribute and adapts it for expressive purposes, along with epithets proper.
Two-step epithets are so called because the process of qualifying seemingly passes two stages: the qualification of the object and the qualification of the qualification itself, as in "an unnaturally mild day" (Hut.), or "a pompously majestic female". (D.) As you see from the examples, two-step epithets have a fixed structure of Adv + Adj model.
Phrase-epithets always produce an original impression Cf.: "the sunshine-in-the-breakfast-room smell" (J.B.), or "a move-if-you-dare expression". (Gr.) Their originality proceeds from the fact of the rare repetition of the once coined phrase-epithet which, in its turn, is explained by the fact that into a phrase-epithet is turned a semantically self-sufficient word combination or even a whole sentence, which loses some of its independence and self-sufficiency, becoming a member of another sentence, and strives to return to normality. The forcible manner of this syntactical transformation is the main obstacle for repeated use of such phrasally-structured epithets.
A different linguistic mechanism is responsible for the emergence of one more structural type of epithets, namely, inverted epithets They are based on the contradiction between the logical and the syntactical: logically defining becomes syntactically defined and vice versa. E.g. instead of "this devilish woman", where "devilish" is both logically and syntactically defining, and "woman" also both logically and syntactically defined, W. Thackeray says "this devil of a woman". Here "of a woman" is syntactically an attribute, i.e. the defining, and "devil" the defined, while the logical relations between the two remain the same as in the previous example - "a woman" is defined by "the devil".
All inverted epithets are easily transformed into epithets of a more habitual structure where there is no logico-syntactical contradiction. Cf.: "the giant of a man" (a gigantic man); "the prude of a woman" (a prudish woman), etc. When meeting an inverted epithet do not mix it up with an ordinary of-phrase. Here the article with the second noun will help you in doubtful cases: "the toy of the girl" (the toy belonging to the girl); "the toy of a girl" (a small, toylike girl), or "the kitten of the woman" (the cat belonging to the woman); "the kitten of a woman" (a kittenlike woman).
Exercise VI. Discuss the structure and semantics of epithets in the following examples. Define the type and function of epithets:
1. He has that unmistakable tall lanky "rangy" loose-jointed graceful closecropped formidably clean American look. (I.M.)
2. Across the ditch Doll was having an entirely different reaction. With all his heart and soul, furiously, jealously, vindictively, he was hoping Queen would not win. (J.)
3. During the past few weeks she had become most sharply conscious of the smiling interest of Hauptwanger. His straight lithe body - his quick, aggressive manner - his assertive, seeking eyes. (Dr.)
4. He's a proud, haughty, consequential, turned-nosed peacock. (D.)
5. The Fascisti, or extreme Nationalists, which means black-shirted, knife-carrying, club-swinging, quick-stepping, nineteen-year-old-pot-shot patriots, have worn out their welcome in Italy. (H.)
6. Where the devil was heaven? Was it up? Down? There was no up or down in a finite but expanding universe in which even the vast, burning, dazzling, majestic sun was in a state of progressive decay that would eventually destroy the earth too. (Js.H.)
7. She has taken to wearing heavy blue bulky shapeless quilted People's Volunteers trousers rather than the tight tremendous how-the-West-was-won trousers she formerly wore. (D.B.)
8. Harrison - a fine, muscular, sun-bronzed, gentle-eyed, patrician-nosed, steak-fed, Oilman-Schooled, soft-spoken, well-tailored aristocrat was an out-and-out leaflet-writing revolutionary at the time. (Jn.B.)
9. In the cold, gray, street-washing, milk-delivering, shutters-coming-off-the-shops early morning, the midnight train from Paris arrived in Strasbourg. (H.)
10. Her painful shoes slipped off. (U.)
11. She was a faded white rabbit of a woman. (A. C.)
12. And she still has that look, that don't-you-touch-me look, that women who-were beautiful carry with them to the grave. (J.B.)
13. Ten-thirty is a dark hour in a town where respectable doors are locked at nine. (T.C.)
14. He loved the afterswim salt-and-sunshine smell of her hair. (Jn.B.)
15. I was to secretly record, with the help of a powerful long-range movie-camera lens, the walking-along-the-Battery-in-the-sunshine meeting between Ken and Jerry. (D.U.)
16. "Thief!" Pilon shouted. "Dirty pig of an untrue friend!" (J.St.)
17. She spent hausfrau afternoons hopping about in the sweatbox of her midget kitchen. (T.C.)
18. He acknowledged an early-afternoon customer with a be-with-you-in-a-minute nod. (D.U.)
19. He thoroughly disliked this never-far-from-tragic look of a ham Shakespearian actor. (H.)
20. "What a picture!" cried the ladies. "Oh! The lambs! Oh, the sweets! Oh, the ducks! Oh, the pets!" (K.M.)
21. A branch, cracking under his weight sent through the tree a sad cruel thunder. (T.C.)
22. There was none of the Old-fashioned Five-Four-Three-Two-One-Zero business, so tough on the human nervous system. (A. Cl.)
23. His shrivelled head bobbed like a dried pod on his frail stick of a body. (J.G.)