Definition and Examples of Metaplasm

Metaplasm (derives from its Greek etymon “metaplasso,” literally “to mold differently”) is a generic term for Figures of Orthography and consists in the transpositionOpens in new window or change, made in a word, by adding, retrenching, or altering either a letter, or a syllable.

Figures of orthography typically alter the spelling (or sound) of a word without altering its meaning. Such orthographic alterations are known to be conscious efforts made by the writer or orator in order to enhance eloquenceOpens in new window or poetic-metreOpens in new window. This is opposed to BarbarismOpens in new window — changes in spellings rendered by mistake.

Classification of Metaplasms

Metaplasms take variety of forms to render changes in the spelling of words, namely: “addition of letters,” “their omission,” “substitution,” or “rearrangement”. In substitution, a letter or syllableOpens in new window is omitted and another added in its place; in rearrangement, a letter is omitted and then inserted somewhere else.

The first forms of metaplasms are those made by addition. ProsthesisOpens in new window — which involves the addition of a letter or syllable to the beginning of a word – falls into this sub-set. Another figure in this sub-set is EpenthesisOpens in new window — which adds a letter or syllable in the middle of a word — where “visiting,” could be rewritten as “visitating”. Likewise, when the addition of a letter or syllable occurs at the end, it is known as ParagogeOpens in new window (also, proparlepsis).

Metaplasm by omission takes similar turn; where the omission is at the beginning of a word, it is called Aphaeresis, Opens in new window e.g., “plain” for “complain”; “neath” for “beneath”.

When the omission takes place in the middle, it goes by the name, Syncope Opens in new window, e.g., “ma’am” for “madam”. However, if the omission takes place at the end of a word, it is known as ApocopeOpens in new window, e.g., “often” becomes “oft’”.

There is a special case of omission of a vowelOpens in new window, a figure by the name, SynaloephaOpens in new window, which involves the retrenchment of two words into one. The synaloepha tends to use apostrophe (punctuation symbol)Opens in new window to indicate such retrenchment, as when ShakespeareOpens in new window showcase this medium, in CoriolanusOpens in new window: “Take’t; ‘tis yours. What is’t?”

Metaplasmic figures by form of transposition, or substituting one letter for another, includes, AntistheconOpens in new window, where “together” becomes “togither”; MetathesisOpens in new window, where “prevert” is used instead of “pervert”, or “frevent” used in place of “fervent”.

Further Readings:
Sonnino Lee A., A Handbook to Sixteenth Century Rhetoric (1968);
Theresa Enos, Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition;
Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence. (1593);
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria (1920 – 1922);
Bullinger, E. E., Figurres of Speech in the Bible. (1898, Grand Rapids: Barker, [1968]).