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Term Definition

One rather common merism within the English language would consist of the phrase "lock, stock, and barrel". Of course, this phrase essentially just means "everything", since the three words in the merism capture the full scope of a given object. In world literature, the Holy Bible is particularly prolific in its use of the merism in order to convey a sense of grandeur or totality in the vision of the world it invokes. 

Definition of merism

A merism is a figure of speech in which something is referred to by a conventional or socially popular phrase that points out some of its traits. Merisms often indicate completeness and are used and reused often by most speakers of a language. A merism describes a whole thing by describing some or all of its parts, and is used to two different ways. The first is through using contrasting extremes, and the second is using several, but not necessarily all, of its parts to describe a thing. The word “merism” is derived from the Greek word merismos meaning “dividing” or “partition.”

Some examples of usage of the term merism

Merisms are often standard and often-used sayings in the English language, and an example is the phrase “Lock, stock, and barrel,” which means everything. Here it is again used in a sentence: “She bought the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel!” Another common example is “hook, line, and sinker” as in “He ate it all up; hook, line, and sinker.”

It is a merism to say, “I searched high and low, and Ultius seemed like the best research paper writing service” or “This song appeals to the young and the old.”  “Ladies and gentlemen” is often used to refer to an entire audience in the theater or at a stage production of any type. The phrase, “flesh and bone” is meant to refer to the human body in many literary and poetry or prose examples, and “nook and cranny” means every part of a building or home. Traditional American marriage vows also contain many merisms: “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” etcetera. A merism is found in the same family as a dysphemism, a literary device used to substitute a technical term for something more derrogatory. 

Other uses of the term

It is thought that merisms may have been introduced to the English language when Norman French words were being absorbed hundreds of years ago. In order to ensure that both Normans and Saxons understood documents, both language roots for synonyms were used.

In the profession of law and studies of law, merisms are used often due to the fact that many of the older terms have lost their meanings but not their usage per se. The phrase “last will and testament” used to refer to two separate documents, which were enforced and judged in two separate courts of law. The will originally disposed of the deceased’s real property, and the testament disposed of chattels (any personal possession other than real estate). Over the years, the two documents became one, but the name of the legal document has stuck. In law, words are very important, for they provide both loopholes for the guilty to escape through and rely heavily on semantics to prevent the guilty from going free. Merisms add to the difficulty of understanding and interpreting legal documents, but the tradition and law itself requires that old terminology and even colloquialisms continue to be used years after their meaning has changed.

Merisms are also used often in the Bible, such as in Genesis 1:1, where “the heavens and the earth” are used to refer to all of creation. Psalem 139 states that God knows “my sitting down and my uprising up;” in other words, God knows all of his actions.

And as our custom research paper writers know, in biology, merism is used to describe the repetition of specific organism parts, such as the repeating pattern of a fish’s scales. The classification of animals by counting these repeated features is known as meristics.

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Synonyms: merism

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