Definition of Solecism

Solecism is derived from a Greek word soloikismos, which means to speak incorrectly. It is a stylistic device, which is defined as a grammatical mistake or intentional use of incorrect grammar in written language and speech. It is also a misuse or misapplication of grammatical customs and rules that are generally unintentional and not acceptable. Violation of etiquette is also called solecism.

Characteristics of Solecism

Solecism is a grammatical error, though sometimes it is not an error but a deliberate construction used in order to create a stylistic effect. Rules are twisted by necessity or due to lack of knowledge. Solecism is not only about grammatical error or misuse of words. It can also be about breaching of etiquette. Phrases or sentences with double negatives are common examples of solecism.

Examples of Solecism from Literature

Example #1

He works his work, I mine….

(Ulysses by Tennyson)

Technically, this is an ungrammatical sentence, because grammatically “works” cannot agree with “I”. Therefore, “I works mine” would be not grammatically correct. In fact, Tennyson has misused the pronoun to create stylistic effects.

Example #2

Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
MARCELLUS : Let’s do’t, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.

(Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

The intentional error in plural forms are often employed by Shakespeare in his works. Here, he uses “loves” instead of love. Though it is grammatically incorrect, it works as an attribute that is common to different features.

Example #3

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)….

(Wasteland by T.S. Eliot)

In this entire text, the natural word order is changed which interrupts the flow of words and sentences, even if the grammatical structure of the words is not correct, it gives a stylistic effect.

Example #4

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost)

In this excerpt, the new sentence starts with a conjunction. Starting with a conjunction is used in English literature to create poetic effects and emphasize the importance of a line or a text. Grammatically, however, it is considered a mistake.

Example #5

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew….
when by now and tree by leaf….
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings
and did their dance
said their nevers they slept their dream……

(Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town by E.E. Cummings)

In the following lines, the words are stressed in unusual ways. The poet has intentionally made these grammatical mistakes in order to create complex structured sentences and lay emphasis.

Example #6

This was the most unkindest cut of all.

(Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare misuses the word unkind (as “unkindest”) along with additional use of “most”. It is a double superlative, which is not grammatically correct thought it helps in highlighting the importance of this phrase.

Example #7

“By innocence I swear,
And by my youth I have one heart,
One bosom and one truth,
And that no woman has;
nor never none Shall mistress be of it, save I alone….”

(Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)

Double negative is a common type of solecism. It is grammatically; although it is used as dialect in some languages. In this excerpt, it is employed to highlight the meaning of the text.

Function of Solecism

Solecism is very common in the entertainment world and in everyday conversations. However, it is not acceptable in formal prose. Solecism is employed frequently in literature. Shakespeare penned a lot of solecism deliberately in order to highlight different characteristics of his characters’ personalities.

The basic function of solecism is to highlight and emphasize an idea or a point and create stylistic effects. The unusual placements of phrases and words results in complex structures, which make the readers think and understand the meaning of the text better.

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