Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: On the Age-old Esoteric Question of Ellipsis vs. Aposiopesis

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Johann Strauss II

High-brow dinner parties can be wonderful events. I was at one lately and, of course, it boasted a rich variety of conversations. One such exchange verged, typically so, toward Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” overture. “Did you know that a Fledermaus is a bat?” The wrong answer is “Of course, I speak German.” The right answer is “Yes, I think I heard that somewhere. Even though I speak some German, ‘bat’ is obviously a word not in my normal lexicon, though now that I think about it, I once saw a bat in Berlin.” Something to that effect. The city of Berlin offers a springboard to orchestrate a retreat from Strauss, should one so desire, or at least to allow you to move the conversation in a direction that will allow you not to seem arrogant but to seem as dillettantish as the next man, which is a welcome idea at most such dinner parties. (As an aside, n.b. that “Die Fledermaus” is sometimes translated in English rather freely as “The Bat’s Revenge,” which reminds me of a friend of mine who is a college professor of literature. He calls on his students when they are not paying attention even for a millisecond. But that’s off the topic—a tangent to bring a smile to my teaching friend’s face and those of his students, should they happen to read this.)

But this blog isn’t to be about “Die Fledermaus” per se or even about Johann Baptist Strauss II, who is more famous, of course, for “The Blue Danube” and less famous, at least stateside, for “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka.” Indeed, he is not know as the “Polka King,” but as the “Waltz King,” and his waltzes greatly enriched nineteenth-century Viennese culture.

Indeed, to listen to this waltz, whose full formal name in the German tongue is “An der schönen blauen Donau,” transports one back to a gentler and, at the same time, more sophisticated milieu. That age easily outstrips culturally the aforementioned dinner party, to which we should, however, now return.

baked-raclette“Yes, Strauss, one of my favorite composers,” someone else added. Then there was some commentary on the baked raclette cheese dish, bestrodden, as it was, by two rows of dainty water crackers, which arrangement was incongruously grouped with a strong Irish chesse on the same serving board. After the curdish ellipse/cheddar chatter, the conversation returned to Stauss momentarily when someone stated knowledgeably that Johann Strauss II was unrelated to Richard Strauss, who was a younger contemporary, not Austrian, but German, hailing from Munich, a city quite near the Austrian border but at some remove from Vienna. This Strauss, of course, composed many an opera, as well as symphonic poems, among the most famous of which is “Also sprach Zarathustra.”

richard-strauss
Richard Strauss

And then the conversation took a very strange, and for a moment less than high]brow turn, for somehow we jumped from Zarathustra to President Trump’s twitter account, particularly to a recent proclamation that he issued via that medium: “I will be speaking at 9:00 A.M. today to Police Chiefs and Sheriffs and will be discussing the horrible, dangerous and wrong decision…. [8 Feb 7:04 AM].”

Gott sei Dank, the conversation did not, you will be glad to learn, explore the content of the president’s brief missive but only the form, for the person who brought it up claimed that the words offered an ellipsis.

aeolus
Aeolus

“An ellipsis,” I chimed in, hoping to ensure that the conversation would not devolve to fustian political squabbling, “technically requires two parts. This statement, incoherent as it seems, is technically an aposiopesis—you know,” I said, “like in the famous speech of Neptune to the raging winds of Aeolus in the first Aeneid.”

“I don’t understand,” said another interlocutor. “I thought an ellipsis was … ,” and she broke off.

“No,” I said, “that’s an aposiopesis.”

“What is?” she queried.

“What you just did. Your words about what an ellipsis might be just tailed off. That’s aposiopesis. An ellipsis is, well,” I said, “like Strauss interrupted by baked raclette and Irish cheddar.”

“I never thought of it that way,” she said.

Then we had a good laugh about cheese and twitter, Strauss II and the German Strauss, and we indulged again in the baked raclette, which by then had grown cold. And that is why, I think, I enjoy high-brow dinner parties, for where else could you find “The Blue Danube,” an assortment of cheese, and rhetorical devices, all working together with a view to …?

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