Friday, February 22, 2013

What is Chiasmus?

I am currently reading or should I say trying to read Originary Technicity The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida by Arthur Bradley. Needless to say my vocabulary is expanding significantly. Every now and a gain a word jumps out at me and I need to know more. The word this morning was Chiasmus, it sounded familiar but I did not know the meaning so for my satisfaction and as a memory jogger I post a reminder from one of a number of websites I came across that offered an explanation, this was the one I preferred, I hope he will forgive me for reposting an extract from his explanation here...

What is Chiasmus?

It's not necessary to read any of what follows to savor the many chiastic quotes that appear on this site. However, by continuing on for a few moments in this section, you'll deepen your understanding of chiasmus and heighten your appreciation of chiastic quotations. If you're a bona fide word, language, and quotation lover, I think you'll find what you're about to read, fascinating.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms by Chris Baldick provides a more extensive description:
chiasmus [ky-AZ-mus] (plural -mi), a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words ("Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure" —Byron) or just a reversed parallel between two corresponding pairs of ideas … . The figure is especially common in 18th century English poetry, but is also found in prose of all periods. It is named after the Greek letter chi (x), indicating a "criss-cross" arrangement of terms. Adjective: chiastic.

As you can see, the proper adjective is chiastic and not "chiasmic" or "chiasmatic," as I've heard some say. Technically, the plural is chiasmi, (as with hippopotamus). However, saying chiasmi can come across as pretentious, so you'll want to do that rarely.
According to the OED, chiasmus made its first published appearance in English in 1871 when a British scholar named A. S. Wilkins wrote about an observation from Cicero:
"This is a good instance of the … figure called chiasmus … in which the order of words in the first clause is inverted in the second."
The word goes back to the ancient Greeks and their fascination with language and rhetoric. The "chi" comes from chi, the letter "X" in the Greek alphabet. The word itself comes from the Greek word khiasmos, meaning "crossing." Khiasmos, in turn, is derived from the Greek word khiazein, meaning "to mark with an X."
"To Mark With an X"
One of the most fascinating features of chiasmus is this "marking with an X" notion. Take Mae West's signature line, "It's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men." By laying out the two clauses parallel to each other, it's possible to draw two lines connecting the key words:
It's not the men in my life


it's the life in my men.
The lines intersect, creating an "X." This quote, and all the chiastic quotations you've seen so far on this site, can be "marked with an X." Here are two more examples:
Home is where the great are small


and the small are great

One should eat to live


not live to eat
If you're ever wondering whether a particular quote is chiastic, simply lay it out in this manner. If you can mark it with an X, it is. If you can't, it probably isn't.
The ABBA Method
One other interesting way to view chiastic quotes is the ABBA method. Let's go back to the Mae West quote. If you assign the letters A and B to the first appearance of the key words and A' and B' (read "A prime" and "B prime") to their second appearance, they follow what is referred to as an ABBA pattern:
A   It's not the men
  B   in my life
  B'   it's the life
A'   in my men
Here's how the other two quotes would be laid out:
A   Home is where the great
  B   are small and
  B'   the small
A'   are great
A    One should eat to
  B   live, not
  B'   live
A'   to eat
Chiasmus can be achieved by reversing more than two key words. This observation from the 18th century English writer, Charles Caleb Colton, is a good example:
"How strange it is that we of the present day are constantly praising
that past age which our fathers abused,
and as constantly abusing that present age,
which our children will praise."
Laid out schematically, it looks like this:
A   How strange it is that we of the present day are constantly praising
  B   that past age
    C     which our fathers abused,
    C'     and as constantly abusing
  B'   that present age,
A'   which our children will praise
Another good example comes from Genesis 9:6:
A   Whoever sheds
  B   the blood
    C     of man
    C'     by man shall
  B'   his blood
A'   be shed
Technically, it doesn't make any difference how many words are reversed. Some scholars believe that a chiastic structure can be found in much larger passages, including entire sections of the New Testament and other ancient sacred writings. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Here, I just wanted to show you how the order of words—any number of words—in the first part of an expression can be reversed in the second.

For a the full article visit

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dictating with your iPhone and Dragon Naturally Speaking

I use an iPhone4 app called iTalk to record conversations with my supervisor and other audio material.  I also use Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 (DNS) to dictate my work into Word. I wondered if it may be possible to get iTalk to link to DNS. I found a tutorial video which explains how to do it wich you can view from here.

The procedure is quite straight forward, it just needs the .aiff file from iTalk to be converted into a .wav file which is easy enough with the free software Audacity which you can download from here. If you have not come across Audacity before it is a good general purpose audio editor.

The process makes use of the transcription option in DNS. Although this technique will work with mixed voices the translation can be a bit bizarre. I am going to try it with just my voice only as a test and see if that is any better.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Helpful Brains

Our helpful brains

I have referenced this anecdote about how wonderful our brain is on a number of occasions. Just stumbled across it again on the blog at and have borrowed it:-

You know we have wonderfully helpful brains. Just chuck it a bunch of mismatched information and it'll somehow manage to make sense of what you give it. For example you can jumble up the letters in word letter in a sentence and still make sense of it - just as long as you preserve the first and last letters. (jsut as lnog as you psrevere the fsirt and lsat ltretes).

This works for words too. Caldwell-Harris and Morris (2008) presented subjects with pairs of words in reversed order, such as 'card credit' and 'you thank'. Even though these are obviously the wrong way around, many people reported them as being the right way. Their subconscious brains heard the words and corrected them on the fly before presenting them to their conscious, which of course has only a few moments to make sense before the next thing in the stream of consciousness comes along.

The brain also helps you see things you think you should see and ignore things that do not make sense. And when it comes to memory, it gets worse as we easily forget things we just perceived (like people's names) and will swear to things happening which did not.

The bottom line is that what we think is true, even if we have just experienced it, is not necessarily so. If in doubt (and maybe if not), always look twice.

Caldwell-Harris, C. and Morris, A. (2008). Fast Pairs: A visual word recognition paradigm for measuring entrenchment, top-down effects, and subjective phenomenology. Consciousness and Cognition, 17 (4), 1063-1081.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

How NOT to write a PhD thesis

In a Times Higher Education article, Tara Brabazon gives her top ten tips for doctoral failure. As I complete my first, not very good essay, I am only too aware of how prophetic the advice in this article may prove to be.
From the article:-
...I understand the angst, worry and stress of supervisors, but I have experienced the other side of the doctoral divide. Examining PhDs is both a pleasure and a curse. It is a joy to nurture, support and help the academy’s next generation, but it is a dreadful moment when an examiner realises that a script is so below international standards of scholarship that there are three options: straight fail, award an MPhil or hope that the student shows enough spark in the viva voce so that it may be possible to skid through to major corrections and a full re-examination in 18 months.
When confronted by these choices, I am filled with sadness for students and supervisors, but this is matched by anger and even embarrassment. What were the supervisors thinking? Who or what convinced the student that this script was acceptable?

Therefore, to offer insights to postgraduates who may be in the final stages of submission, cursing their supervisors who want another draft and further references, here are my ten tips for failing a PhD. If you want failure, this is your road map to getting there.
1. Submit an incomplete, poorly formatted bibliography
2. Use phrases such as “some academics” or “all the literature” without mitigating statements or references
3. Write an abstract without a sentence starting “my original contribution to knowledge is…”
4. Fill the bibliography with references to blogs, online journalism and textbooks
5. Use discourse, ideology, signifier, signified, interpellation, postmodernism, structuralism, post-structuralism or deconstruction without reading the complete works of Foucault, Althusser, Saussure, Baudrillard or Derrida
6. Assume something you are doing is new because you have not read enough to know that an academic wrote a book on it 20 years ago
7. Leave spelling mistakes in the script
8. Make the topic of the thesis too large
9. Write a short, rushed, basic exegesis
10. Submit a PhD with a short introduction or conclusion     
The article contains very sound advice from an informed viewpoint. The follow up comments also contribute some sound advice and information...

Read more here...


Brabazon, T. (28 January2010) How not to write a PhD thesis. Times Higher Education. Available from: <> [Accessed 9 February 2013].