What Is A Transferred Epithet?


What Is A Transferred Epithet?

An epithet is an adjective (or phrase containing an adjective) or adverb which modifies (describes) a noun. For instance, in "dreamless sleep", dreamless is the epithet.

In a transferred epithet (also known as hypallage; literally "echange") the adjective or adverb is transferred from the noun it logically belongs with, to another one which fits it grammatically but not logically. So in "dreamless night" , dreamless is a transferred epithet. The exact meaning of the sentence is "night when I (or whoever) slept without dreaming," since a night can't actually dream anyway.

We use transferred epithets all the time. Another example could be "I had a terrible day." "Terrible" is a transferred epithet, because it wasn't the day that was terrible, only the things that happened to me on that day. A more poetic example would be "a long and weary road" - long can apply logically to the road, but not weary – so weary is a transferred epithet.

another eg:
"Cruel bars" as a transferred epithet:

This refers to prison bars or the bars of a cage and to the fact that someone has been put into prison or into the cage unfairly. The bars themselves are not cruel, but they serve the purposes of the cruel person who uses the cage to imprison someone or something (such as a bird or an animal). The cruelty is transferred from the person who uses the cage or prison to the cage or prison itself and to the bars of the cage or prison.

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