encomium

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

encomium
"These are nuggets of bliss," Kevin Murphy says in his encomium to tater tots, "small prayers answered by the flinty russet fields of Idaho. Potatoes fresh as an autumn dawn, fried deep, oh so deep, right down to their very souls" (A Year at the Movies, 2002). (Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Definition

Encomium is a rhetorical term for a formal expression of praise. Traditionally, an encomium is a tribute or eulogy in prose or verse honoring a person, an idea, a thing, or an event. Plural: encomia or encomiums. Adjective: encomiastic. Also known as commendatio and panegyric. Contrast with invective.

In classical rhetoric, encomium was regarded as a type of epideictic rhetoric and served as one of the progymnasmata.

(See Examples and Observations below.)

Etymology
From the Greek, "praise"


Encomiastic Paragraphs and Essays


Examples and Observations

  • "Mark Twain has been called the inventor of the American novel. It might even be fair to call him the inventor of the American short story. And he surely deserves an additional encomium: the man who popularized the sophisticated literary attack on racism."
    (Stephen L. Carter, "Getting Past Black and White." Time, July 3, 2008)

     
  • Encomium to Rosa Parks
    "I grew up in the South, and Rosa Parks was a hero to me long before I recognized and understood the power and impact that her life embodied. I remember my father telling me about this colored woman who had refused to give up her seat. And in my child's mind, I thought, 'She must be really big.' I thought she must be at least a hundred feet tall. I imagined her being stalwart and strong and carrying a shield to hold back the white folks. And then I grew up and had the esteemed honor of meeting her. And wasn't that a surprise. Here was this petite, almost delicate lady who was the personification of grace and goodness. And I thanked her then. I said, 'Thank you,' for myself and for every colored girl, every colored boy, who didn't have heroes who were celebrated. I thanked her then."
    (Oprah Winfrey, Eulogy for Rosa Parks, Oct. 31, 2005)
     
  • Encomia in Classical Rhetoric: "Encomium to Helen"
    "Gorgias' theory of rhetoric, when applied to actual oratory, can appear as pure bombast, sheer display with little substance. It is difficult to capture the often pompous and exaggerated style of Gorgias in English . . .. A typical example of his style is in the "Encomium to Helen," which begins as follows:
    A fair thing for a city is having good men, for a body is beauty, for a soul wisdom, for a deed virtue . . . (and) for a discourse is truth. And the opposite of this is foul. For a man and a woman and a discourse and a deed and a city it is necessary to honor the deed worthy of praise with praise . . . and for the unworthy, to attach blame. For it is equal error and ignorance to praise the blameworthy and to blame the praiseworthy.
    . . . Although most of the Gorgianic effects depend on various kinds of parallelism, Gorgias also makes strong use of antithesis, pairing of matched opposing expressions in order to indicate their contrariety."
    (James J. Murphy and Richard A. Katula, A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric, 3rd ed. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)
     
  • Aristotle on Praise and Encomium
    "Praise [epainos] is speech that makes clear the greatness of virtue [of the subject praised]. There is thus need to show that actions have been of that sort. Encomium, in contrast, is concerned with deeds. Attendant things contribute to persuasion, for example, good birth and education; for it is probable that good children are born from good parents and that a person who is well brought up has a certain character. Thus, too, we 'encomi-ize' those who have accomplished something. The deeds are signs of the person's habitual character, since we would praise even one who had not accomplished anything if we believed him to be of the sort who could."
    (Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book One, Chapter 9. Trans. by George A. Kennedy, Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Oxford University Press, 1991)

     
  • The Rhetorical Encomium in Ancient Greece and Rome
    "Imperial society took the encomium seriously. An official oration, regulated by custom or law, delivered most often by an appointed speaker, who spoke on behalf of a group, it was a social rite affirming social values. In essence, the encomium proclaimed and maintained the social consensus, the adherence of all to recognized ways of thinking. . . . As an instrument of consensus, the encomium came at a price: affirmation of a unanimity that was potentially a mere façade, support lent to the dominant ideology, stifling of opposition, flattery, and the cult of personality. The ancient rhetorical encomium, however, was never just cant, perhaps precisely because of its rhetorical nature. Rhetoric implied, as the ancients saw it, qualities of subtlety, intelligence, culture, and beauty, which went beyond what would have satisfied a purely totalitarian usefulness."
    (Laurent Pernot, Rhetoric in Antiquity, trans. by W.E. Higgins. Catholic University of America Press, 2005)
     
  • The Lighter Side: Encomium to Tater Tots
    "Allow me to sing of tater tots.

    "These are nuggets of bliss, small prayers answered by the flinty russet fields of Idaho. Potatoes fresh as an autumn dawn, fried deep, oh so deep, right down to their very souls. Potatoes so well coddled and lovingly cared for are bound to be grateful for their tuberous vegetable lives, and, being so loved, they in return extend every bit of potatoey flavor outward from themselves as they die, not unlike the Buddha, reclining on his side, growing to massive proportions as he transformed from this life to the next, the confines of the earth no longer large enough to contain the boundlessness of his nature.

    "I might simply have said that these are damn good tater tots, but I doubt you would have taken me at my word."
    (Kevin Murphy, A Year at the Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey. HarperCollins, 2002)

     

    Pronunciation: en-CO-me-yum