What is Charientismus?

Charientismus (etymologically from Greek, literally “expression of a disagreeable thing agreeably”), is a figure which prevails when we mollify stormy things with pleasant words in order to appease the tension. Thus, as George PuttenhamOpens in new window rightfully states:

when we give a mocke under smooth and lowly words.

Charientismus is a type of ironyOpens in new window involving the glossing over of a disagreeable subject with more agreeable language.

FarnabyOpens in new window, one of the ingenious authors who particularly take admirable interest in this figure, defines it as

the substitution of smooth for hard words.

Puttenham cites as an example the ‘myld and appeasing mockery’ of the man who overheard another saying of him ‘thou art sure to be hanged ere thou dye’ and replied ‘sir, I know your mastership speakes but in jest’.
(Quentin Skinner, Reason & Rhetoric in the Philosophy of HobbesOpens in new window)

Classical Examples

  1. A certain man being apprehended, and brought before AlexanderOpens in new window the Great king of Macedonia, for rallying against him, and being demanded of Alexander why he and his companion had done so, made this answer, had not the fayled (sayth he) we had spoken much worse. By which answer he signified, that those words proceeded rather from wine than malice: by which free and pleasant confession, he assuaged Alexander’s great displeasure, and obtained forgivenesse.

    — (Henry Peachum, The Garden of EloquenceOpens in new window)

  2. Charientismus proves the veracity of Solomon’s sermon in Prov. 15:1. — A gentle answer turns away displeasure and pacify wrath.
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