In my last post, on Bachi bouzouki, there was a picture of Capitaine Hadock shouting “insults” at people…among those invectives was the word ‘Anacoluthe’ or ‘anacoluthon’ in English.
This word comes from the Greek ‘anakolouthon’ and is a rhetorical device, a ‘figure de style’. In Greek, it literally means ‘not following’. I don’t know about the English school system, but my French teacher in 3ème (when I was 15) was crazy about rhetorical devices. We had scary exams assessing our ability to recognize them...that was one of the keys to our understanding of literature, he thought. To me, it was sheer agony!
So what is an anacoluthe? Well, it is all about splits and changes within a sentence. On Silva Rhetoricae (an Anglophone website which can feed all your curiosity about rhethoric!) defines it as, “a grammatical interruption or lack of implied sequence within a sentence.”
« Le nez de Cléopâtre, s’il eût été plus court, tout la face de la terre aurait changé. » Pascal, Pensées
“Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed." Pascal's Pensées.
In this case, “the nose” should have been the subject of the verb in second part of the sentence. But a part from an uncertain grammar, an anacoluthe can help to create a sense of surprise in a text.
So yes, the anacoluthe belongs to that category of figures of speech which the (wo)man in the street is not supposed to use (because it’s grammatically incorrect), but writers and artists may use it as much as they want. “Vous n’êtes pas Proust” my French teacher used to say.
I found a Canadian website where there is a game called “Lutte contre l’anacoluthe” : have a go!