cacozelia (rhetoric and style)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Claude Fleury (1640–1723), quoted by Raymond E. Wanner in Claude Fleury as an Educational Historiographer and Thinker (1975).


Cacozelia is a traditional rhetorical term for wordiness, stylistic excess, and "perverse affectation"--in particular, the excessive use of foreign and archaic words to impress an audience

Similar to cacozelia is mingle-mangle or soraismus, described by George Puttenham as "when we make our speech or writings of sundry languages using some Italian word, or French, or Spanish, or Dutch, or Scottish, not for the nonce or for any purpose (which were in part excusable) but ignorantly and affectedly" (The Arte of English Poesie, 1589).


Although the Roman rhetorician Quintilian considered cacozelia "the worst of all offenses against style," others have characterized it as a "tolerable poetic vice."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "faulty imitation"

Examples and Observations

  • "[A]ffectation can alienate customers, clients, and colleagues because it forces readers to work harder to understand the writer's meaning. 

    "Affected writing typically contains inappropriate abstract, highly technical, or foreign words and is often liberally sprinkled with trendy buzzwords."
    (Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, The Business Writer's Handbook, 10th ed., 2011)

  • Quintilian on Cacozelia
    "Cacozelia, or perverse affectation, is a fault in every kind of style: for it includes all that is turgid, trivial, luscious, redundant, far-fetched or extravagant, while the same name is also applied to virtues carried to excess, when the mind loses its critical sense and is misled by the false appearance of beauty, the worst of all offenses against style, since other faults are due to carelessness, but this is deliberate. This form of affectation, however, affects style alone. For the employment of arguments which might equally well be advanced by the other side, or are foolish, inconsistent or superfluous, are all faults of matter, whereas corruption of style is revealed in the employment of improper or redundant words, in obscurity of meaning, effeminacy of rhythm, or in the childish search for similar or ambiguous expressions. Further, it always involves insincerity, even though all insincerity does not imply affectation. For it consists in saying something in an unnatural or unbecoming or superfluous manner."
    (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 95 AD; translated by H.E. Butler)

  • Mark Twain on Writers Who Favor Foreign Phrases
    "They know a word here and there, of a foreign language, and these they are continually peppering into their literature, with a pretense of knowing that language--what excuse can they offer? The foreign words and phrases that they use have their exact equivalent in a nobler language--English; yet they think they 'adorn their page' when they say Strasse for street, and Bahnhof for railway station, and so on--flaunting these fluttering rags of poverty in the reader's face and imagining he will be ass enough to take them for the sign of untold riches held in reserve."
    (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880)
  • A Pathetic Appeal
    "Cacozelia may seriously injure a speaker's or writer's appeal to Ethos and Logos, but sometimes supports well the Appeal to Pathos. There is a very small window which allows such an effect."
    (Gregory T. Howard, Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms. Xlibris, 2010)
  • George Puttenham on "Fonde Affectation"
    "Ye have another intolerable ill maner of speach, which by the Greekes originall we may call fonde affectation, and is when we affect new words and phrases other than the good speakers and writers in any language hath allowed, and is the common fault of young schollers not halfe so well studied before they come from the Universitie or Schooles, and when they come to their friends, or happen to get some benefice or other promotion in their countreys, will seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin, and to use new fangled speaches, thereby to shew themselves among the ignorant the better learned."
    (George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, 1589)
  • Bryan Garner on Mingle-Mangle
    "Mingle-Mangle, known in erudite circles as macaronism, soraismus, or cacozelia, was a common vice of language in early English [legal] opinions. It consists in English larded with Latin or French, as in the following example from Weaver v. Ward, decided by the King's Bench in 1616:
    The defendant pleaded . . . that he was . . . a trained soldier in London, of the band of one Andrews captain: and so was plaintiff, and that they were skirmishing with their muskets charged with powder for their exercise in re militaire, against another captain and his band; and as they were so skirmishing, the defendant, casualiter et per infortunium et contra voluntatem suam, in discharging his piece, did hurt and wound the plaintiff; which is the same, etc. absque hoc, that he was guilty, aliter sive alio modo.
    (Hob. 134, 80 Eng. Rep. 284.)
    For modern legal readers, mingle-mangle makes for fascinating, if not entirely comprehensible, reading."
    (Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1995)

  • Soraismus
    Like mingle mangle, soraismus (from the Greek meaning "heaping up") is the use of foreign words and expressions, usually as an affectation or for humorous effect.

    - "Now, my dearest, dearest, mon cher, cher monsieur, you have read this; now you know. So, will you please, at once, pack and leave. This is a landlady’s order. I am dismissing a lodger. I am kicking you out. Go! Scram! Departez! I shall be back by dinnertime, if I do eighty both ways and don’t have an accident (but what would it matter?), and I do not wish to find you in the house. Please, please, leave at once, now, do not even read this absurd note to the end. Go. Adieu."
    (Charlotte Haze in a note to Humbert Humbert in Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1955)

    - "[Edgar Allan] Poe's prose is sprinkled liberally with instances of soraismus--this is one reason why some commentators despise his writing as pretentious. The first detective in literature, Poe's brilliant but arrogant and pretentious C. Auguste Dupin, is guilty of this kind of accumulation now and then, and if we do not want to accuse Dupin of showing off, we might at least accuse Poe:

    ' Il y à parièr,' replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, ' que toute idée publique, toute convention reçue est une sottise, car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre. The mathematicians, I grant you, have done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term "analysis" into application to algebra. The French are the originators of this particular deception; but if a term is of any importance--if words derive any value from applicability--then "analysis" conveys "algebra" about as much as, in Latin, " ambitus" implies "ambition," ' religio" "religion," or " homines honesti," a set of  honorable men.' ('The Purloined Letter,' 6: 43-4)
    This soraismus involves a mingling of English, French, and Latin. . . .

    "While Poe in all seriousness employs foreignisms in his own prose but ridicules the use of soraismus in the abstract, in a literary review he also condemns another author for that device--or vice."
    (Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. McGill-Queens University Press, 2005)

    - "Why do we want to use foreign expressions? The simplest answer is that we need them. To go back to our newish friend, Schadenfreude. There are English ways of expressing the ideas contained within the German word, but none of them are as compact or as expressive or, simply, as right-seeming. . . .

    "There are, of course, less practical reasons for employing foreign terms. One might almost say less creditable ones. We use words to impress as well as to communicate, and choosing an appropriate and exotic term may be a short cut to impressing others. If you've chosen the right word and the right audience, that is. You also run the risk of being misunderstood or thought pretentious."
    (Philip Gooden, Faux Pas: A No-Nonsense Guide to Words and Phrases. A&C Black, 2005)
  • Soraismus in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost
    Holofernes: Satis quod sufficit.
    Sir Nathaniel: I praise God for you, sir: your reasons at dinner have been sharp and sententious; pleasant without scurrility, witty without affection, audacious without impudency, learned without opinion, and strange without heresy. I did converse this quondam day with a companion of the king's, who is intituled, nominated, or called, Don Adriano de Armado.
    Holofernes: Novi hominem tanquam te: his humour is lofty, his discourse peremptory, his tongue filed, his eye ambitious, his gait majestical, and his general behavior vain, ridiculous, and thrasonical. He is too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may call it.
    Sir Nathaniel: A most singular and choice epithet.
    (William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, Act Five, scene 1)
  • George Puttenham on the Mingle Mangle
    "Another of your intollerable vices is that which the Greekes call Soraismus, & we may call the [mingle mangle] as when we make our speach or writinges of sundry languages using some Italian word, or French, or Spanish, or Dutch, or Scottish, not for the nonce or for any purpose (which were in part excusable) but ignorantly and affectedly . . .."
    (George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, 1589)
  • The Lighter Side of Mingle-Mangle
    "If wee present a mingle-mangle, our fault is to be excused, because the whole worlde is become an Hodge-podge."
    (John Lyly, prologue to Midas, 1592)