As an emotionally stunted twentysomething who can barely accept the fact he’s legally an adult, it’s difficult to admit the following (and not just because it’s such a tired, clichéd maxim): teaching an old dog new tricks is a challenging affair.
While I didn’t watch as many movies as most of my peers growing up (due to extremely tight-leashed helicopter parents and a rigorous emphasis on school), I did the next best thing: read about them. From dry instructional books on set construction in Akira Kurosawa films to lurid gossip pieces concerning starlets and stars from The Golden Age of Cinema (my parents were far more cavalier about “inappropriate content” in the books than visual mediums I consumed) to multi-volume books chronicling the history of film, my thirst for knowledge about film was nearly unquenchable. So precisely does this have to do with that cheap platitude above, much less rhetoric and this course at large? One word: Trope.
In film terms, a “trope” is a scene, plot device or event that’s regularly used. I think the easiest corollary term in English for a film trope would be “cliché,” except without the negative connotation that word usually carries. An oft-cited example of a “film trope” is protagonists in action films climbing around in the ventilation systems in order to get where they need to be without being detected by their enemies.
So you can imagine my shock upon reading the piece on Style by Keith and Lundberg where rhetorical tropes are defined in… wholly different terms. K&L define a trope as, “a substitution of a word or phrase by a less literal word or phrase.” I gawped a bit. Read it at least a dozen times over and still couldn’t make sense of it. I had been trained, operantly conditioned by those books which laid the foundation of my life, and this new meaning simply couldn’t be absorbed! Even their examples and further explications left me hollow and still too uncertain of how to process it, so I turned to Professor Chrome to further elucidate me. The first result brought up a page on a website named ‘rhetorica.net’ (seems legit?), wherein tropes were defined as, “the use of a word, phrase, or image in a way not intended by its normal signification.” This made a bit more sense, but I still couldn’t quite grasp it. So I pressed on. And I continue to press on.
Through a vast amount of reading into semiotics and signification I was finally able to understand “trope” under these new parameters. It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks: they just need to know how to read first!