Love in a Time of Catachresis

By in

I heard someone say that the love letter is every person’s contribution to literature.  As honest and as earnest as you want to be in a love letter, people want to land that all-important impression that turns the “bes” to the “babes” (or “behs” to “bhabes,” depending on how you spell it).  It doesn’t seem important or even relevant, but the love letter writer uses poetic and rhetorical devices; to deliberately express and impress, the opinions of others relegated to kebs.

At first, there’s that urge to okray and chaka-fy the attempt of someone in love to be literary, poetic, or profound.  You don’t know what to make of words and phrases in love letters.  Stopping short of “You’re the bandage that can heal the wound of my bleeding heart,” or perhaps “Sorrow never felt more real in sight when I missed saying goodnight,” or canned lyrics like “I’ll hang from your lips instead of the gallows of heartache that hang from above” (yi-hee), that’s the whole point.

Malapropism?  Solecism?  No, let’s use something so bonggacious: catachresis.

Since we have a limited set of words and a very difficult time articulating what we feel, we use the pool of words and expressions that we already know, put them together, and come up with something that can convey the feeling, even if it is incomplete and vague to the average reader.  Who would understand a burning soul, the agony of loneliness, or (heaven forbid) the glory of love, but that person whom the letter is written for?  As bad or as humorous as the piece may be, the sincerity – if present – always comes through.

At first glance, catachresis (for whatever it’s worth) may seem to violate that cardinal rule of all writing that almost every writer likes to tote and quote: “Write to express, and not to impress.”  There aren’t thorns in magnolias, and there’s a disconnect in something like (and this is from an actual love letter I found somewhere), “First love is like ice cream / It melts, but the sweetness stays in your mouth.”  It may seem to be a desperate attempt to be impressive and profound, but you can only imagine the feeling the writer is trying to evoke.  Surely, the literary critic may vomit, defecate, urinate, and break into a cold sweat at the mere mention of first love and ice cream, but ah, the partner would be sleeping with that love letter for days on end.

Or lines like, “I’m not a poet,” or “Ako ay simple lang.” Statements like these would elicit laughter from some of us, but not to whom those statements are addressed to.  We may frown upon Gloc-9’s expression of desperate love: pedicabs, sinigang sa miso, and cheap perfume, but not those who find romance and affection in it.  Cheesy?  Disgusting?  Amateurish?  Not so, if you’re the one getting the letter.

Whether you’re a Noah Calhoun who would write 365 letters – a letter every year and it still isn’t over – or you’re a Florentino Ariza who would write love letters and eat flowers to imbibe the scent of your Fermina Daza, you only need to come across as who you are and be.

Love letters speak to the heart, not to the head.  As corny and balaj the phrases and verses in a love letter may seem, the only person who can truly understand the ode is the one for whom it is written for.  The next time you write a love letter that may seem so chipaz to self-proclaimed literary critics (or crit1xXX, depending on how you spell it), or would probably not net you a jowa the next day, you can always make a good excuse for it: catachresis.

You can even use that word in gayspeak, if you wanted to.  Chos.

7 comments on “Love in a Time of Catachresis”

    • tina
    • November 8, 2009

    uh huh. i’m just curious, what occasioned this defense (?) of love letters and their writers? 😉

  1. Reply

    Catachresis. For example… Let us debilitate the Philippines. Debilitate (wrong) for rehabilitate (right) creating irony.

    What exactly were you getting at in this post?

  2. Reply

    You see most of these figures of speech like catachresis are natural. People use them all the time without thinking. They’re not too complicated, and definitely not bongacious.

  3. Reply

    Catachresis is intentional. “Hey look at me, are you deaf?”

    It’s an emotional mistake in word use that’s appropriate in its context: “Gloria? He’s a pig!”

    First love and ice-cream? You mean the two put together is catachretic? There’s nothing even ironic about it. Catachretic ironies are often pretty obvious and massive.

  4. Reply

    “I would die if you love me” is a common example.

    You can go with extreme hyperbole (also catchretic by definition): “Your body is a wonderland.”

    “You complete me”

    “I’m just a POOL of love”

    “My bloody heart will break if you leave me.”

    “I go crazy when I’m without you.”

    There are so many examples, but few good ones.

  5. Reply

    Ok, last comment. I got curious with your post. here’s a good site to explain catachresis (a chimeric word):

    Still, I don’t believe ice cream and love are a catachretic combination.

    1. Reply


      Your second to the last comment is a great example of what you’ll find in the box of love letters I sneaked a peek in a couple of years ago. Definitely not mine.

      Besides this is just a fun-fun post, dude. 😀 I tend to get extremely bored so I played around with an English textbook and the Internet. Poof, “catachresis.” My point: don’t diss love letters. 😉

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