Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Flourishing Paraphs


Para was Greek for beside. So lines that are parallel were para allelois or beside each other and those who are paranoid were para nous or, literally, beside their minds. Therefore, if you made a little mark in the margin of a Greek text to indicate a break or a new section this was written beside the text and was a para-graph.

Paragraph can, and has, been shortened and corrupted in all sorts of ways. John Florio's 1598 Worlde of Wordes has:

Paragrafo, a paragraffe, a paraffe, a pilcrow, whatsoever is contained in one sentence.

Pilcrow is still the standard term for the paragraph mark ¶ that you can sometimes see. But paraph has retained much more of the original meaning. You see a paraph is the technical name for the long flourishing extravagant line with which so many people end their signatures. Take, for example, Benjamin Franklin's signature:


Now that is a paraph and a half.

Speaking of a paraph-and-a-halfs, an academic fellow once told me that the best way to spot the weak point in a long essay is to flick through and find the longest paragraph, because that will always be where the writer was most confused. It's a rather good trick, and saves actually reading things.

5 comments:

  1. You should tweet this:
    "the best way to spot the weak point in a long essay is to flick through and find the longest paragraph, because that will always be where the writer was most confused"

    It’s a wonderful advice.

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  2. It is wonderful advice, and I intend to employ it forthwith. Thanks Inky Fool!

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  3. Alexander Hamilton.4 April 2012 13:23

    It also seems to work when listening to politicians, the longest part of their speech is where it founders.

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  4. New Kid on the Block4 April 2012 14:54

    Excellent para-etymology (just kidding…) Inky fool ! :-)

    But, why the past tense for para (παρα)?
    We still write in paragraphs (παράγραφος)
    And we still live in parallel (παράλληλα) (and therefore, having no common point between them) universes with our politicians.:-)

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  5. And what of 'paraphernalia'? Any relation?

    -C.B

    ReplyDelete