An Introduction to Mycterismus

Mycterismus (etymologically from Greek, literally means “turning up the nose”) is a privy mockery given with an accompanying gesture, scornful countenance, or enthusiastic banter, yet not so privy, that it may well be perceived.

PeachamOpens in new window describes this trope to be a subtle mockery with words and gives this example:

  1. ‘To one that demanded of Demonax the philosopher, if Philosophers did use to eat sweet cakes, Demonax turning to him with a jeering countenance, made this reply, “Doest thou thinke that bee gather their hony for fooles onely?”’

    —(Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of LanguageOpens in new window)

  2. The demonstration of the above example also correlates with Sherry’sOpens in new window description of the trope:

  3. ‘a skornyng by some jesture of the face, as by wrythinge the nose, putting out the tonge, pointing, or such lyke.’

    — (Sig. C vii)

PuttenhamOpens in new window explains that we employ this trope ‘when we give a mocke with a scornful countenance as in some smiling sort looking aside or by drawing the lippe awry, or shrinking up the nose’, one instance being that of the man who ‘said to one whose words he beleved not, no doubt Sir of that’.

As Peacham adds in his section on the value of the device, it can be described as ‘a privie kind of mocke’ which ‘serveth to represse pride, rebuke folly and taunt vice’.

Important Hint! 

Mycterismus is a kind irony popular in everyday parlance. The use of irony offers us freedom at communicating our thoughts, and in the same vein, adds a certain flair and spice to the discourse.

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