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Definition & Example of Tapinosis

Tapinosis (also: “tapeinosis,” “antenantiosis,” “humiliation,” “abbaser;” derives from Greek, literally “a demeaning” or “humbling”) is a form of speech that aims at undue extenuation of a person or thing; using undignified or less-serious terms to diminish the significance of its subjects to a degree of intentional falsehood. Thus, when we craftily call that, which is really “a crime”a fault of inadvertency. This is the reverse case of AuxesisOpens in new window.

Tapinosis is central to “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.,” as the editors of various magazines belittle Thingum’s poetry by referring to it with such terms as verses and lines; they refer to the poet himself with such degrading terms as poetaster and scribbler. (qtd. in Brett Zimmerman’s Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style)

Example of Tapinosis

Our self-love very frequently leads us to make use of this figure when engaged in self-examination or on being called to account for our faults. In ColeridgeOpens in new window’s “Remorse” we find a notable example in the speech of Ordonio, in his attempt to calm his conscience regarding the crime of fratricide:

  1. “What, if one reptile sting another reptile,
    Where is the crime? The goodly face of Nature
    Hath one disfiguring stain the less upon it.
    Are we not all predestined Transiency
    And cold Dishonour? Grant it that this hand
    Had given a morsel to the hungry worms
    Somewhat too early. Where is the crime of this?
    That this must needs bring on the idiocy
    Of moist-eyed Penitence?”
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