Parataxis (HUM225)

Panphila came up to me today and noted that on one post I had called the style of short sentences without subordinate clauses parataxis, though we’ve been using the term hypotaxis in class. Though I assured her that hypotaxis was the proper term, later I couldn’t shake a lingering doubt. This is something like my inability to spell the word “regard” without checking. For years I would spell it “reguard” because of some kind of cognitive blind spot.

The prefix “hypo” comes from the Greek upo (ὑπο), which means “under, beneath, down, from below.” Thus hypodermic means beneath the skin.

The prefix “para” comes from the Greek para (παρά) which means “beside, to the side, alongside.” Thus paramedic indicates someone trained in emergency medical procedures which are, in a sense, “to the side of” general medical practice.

The “taxis” of both words is from the Greek  τάξις which means “order, arrangement.”

Here is an example of a hypotactical style:

Though he often wandered down to the water at sunset, following the last traces of light as they receded behind the headlands, he never did so without remembering how, when a boy on another coast, his father had encouraged him to wake up in the dark in order to watch dawn slip up from the ocean.

Here is an example of a paratactical style:

Nobody knows why. It just is. It’s tautological. Isn’t that what Yahweh said to Moses? Moses asked, who are you? God said, I am I.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates one of the first uses of parataxis in 1837. It defines the term the following way:

“The placing of propositions or clauses one after another, without indicating by connecting words the relation (of coordination or subordination) between them, as in Tell me, how are you?.”

Dashiell Hammett’s writing style, which we correctly described as terse, telegraphic, even fragmentary is properly termed paratactical.  I apologize for the confusion and I promise I’ll never knowingly pass on bad information. Thanks to Panphila for pointing this out.